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Death Jesus

Death Jesus

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Special Communication
 
On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ
William D. Edwards, MD; Wesley J. Gabel, MDiv; Floyd E. Hosmer, MS, AMI
 
THE LIFE and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth have formed the basis for amajor world religion, (Christianity)have appreciably influenced thecourse of human history, and, byvirtue of a compassionate attitudetoward the sick, also have contributedto the development of modern medi-cine. The eminence of Jesus as ahistorical figure and the suffering,and controversy associated with hisdeath has stimulated us to investi-gate, in an interdisciplinary manner,the circumstances surrounding hiscrucifixion. Accordingly it is ourintent to present not a theologicaltreatise but rather a medically, andhistorically accurate account of thephysical death of the one called JesusChrist.
 
SOURCES
The source material concerningChrist’s death comprises a body of literature and not a physical body orits skeletal remains. Accordingly, thecredibility of any discussion of Jesus’death will be determined primarily bythe credibility of one’s sources. Forthis review, the source materialincludes the writings of ancientChristian and non-Christian authors,the writings of modern authors, andthe Shroud of Turin.
1-40
Using thelegal-historical method of scientificinvestigation,
27
scholars have estab-lished the reliability and accuracy of the ancient manuscripts.
26,27,29,31
 The most extensive and detaileddescriptions of the life and death of Jesus are to be found in the NewTestament gospels of Matthew, Mark,Luke, and John.
1
The other 23 booksof the New Testament support but donot expand on the details recorded inthe gospels. Contemporary Christian,Jewish, and Roman authors provideadditional insight concerning thefirst-century Jewish and Roman legalsystems and the details of scourgingand crucifixion.
5
Seneca, Livy, Plu-tarch, and others refer to crucifixionpractices in their works.
8,28
Specifical-ly, Jesus (or his crucifixion) is men-tioned by the Roman historians Cor-nelius Tacitus, Pliny the Younger,and Suetonius, by non-Roman histori-ans Thallus and Phlegon, by the satir-ist Lucian of Samosata, by the JewishTalmud, and by the Jewish historianFlavius Josephus, although the au-thenticity of portions of the latter isproblematic.
26
 
·
 
Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged,and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deepstripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set thestage for hypovolemic shock as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was tooweakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion his wrists were nailed to the patibulum, and after the patibulumwas lifted onto the upright post, (stipes) his feet were nailed to the stipes.The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference withnormal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemicshock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus’ death was ensured by the thrust of asoldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historicalevidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.(
JAMA
1986; 255:1455-1463)
 
The Shroud of Turin is consideredby many to represent the actual buri-al cloth of Jesus,
22
and several public-cations concerning the medical as-pects of his death draw conclusionsfrom this assumption.
5,11
The Shroudof Turin and recent archaeologicalfindings provide valuable informationconcerning Roman crucifixion prac-tices.
22-24
The interpretations of mod-ern writers, based on a knowledge of science and medicine not available inthe first century, may offer addition-al insight concerning the possiblemechanisms of Jesus’ death.
2-17
 When taken in concert certainfacts—the extensive and early testi-mony of both Christian proponentsand opponents, and their universalacceptance of Jesus as a true histori-cal figure; the ethic of the gospelwriters, and the shortness of the timeinterval between the events and theextant manuscripts; and the confir-mation of the gospel accounts byhistorians and archaeological find-ings
26-27
 —ensure a reliable testimonyfrom
 
which
 
a
 
modern
 
medical interpret
-
 tation of Jesus’ death may be made.
 
GETHSEMANE
 
 After Jesus and his disciples hadobserved the Passover meal in anupper room in a home in southwestJerusalem, they traveled to the Mountof Olives, northeast of the city (Fig 1).(Owing to various adjustments in thecalendar, the years of Jesus’ birth anddeath remain controversial.
29
How-ever, it is likely that Jesus was bornin either 4 or 6 BC and died in 30 AD.
11,29
During the Passover observ-ance in 30 AD, the Last Supper wouldhave been observed on Thursday,
From the Departments of Pathology (Dr. Edwards)and Medical Graphics (Mr. Hosmer), Mayo Clinic,Rochester, Minn; and the Homestead United Meth-odist Church, Rochester, Minn, and the West BethelUnited Methodist Church, Bethel, Minn (Pastor Gabel).Reprint requests to Department of Pathology,Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905 (Dr Edwards).
 
JAMA March 21, 1986—Vol 255, No. 11 Death of Christ—Edwards et al
1455
 
 
 
To Salt SeaHinnom ValleyTo Bethlehemand HebronKidronValleyTo BethanyMount of OlivesGarden of GethsemaneFortress of AntoniaPossibleGolgothaTraditionalGolgotha(Calvary)To JoppaHerod Antipas’PalaceHerod’sPalaceCaiaphas’ResidenceUpperRoomLower CityUpper CityTempleSuburbTo Sychemand DamascusFeet Meters05001,0001,50002505001236457
SNEW
 
To Salt SeaHinnom ValleyTo Bethlehemand HebronKidronValleyTo BethanyMount of OlivesGarden of GethsemaneFortress of AntoniaPossibleGolgothaTraditionalGolgotha(Calvary)To JoppaHerod Antipas’PalaceHerod’sPalaceCaiaphas’ResidenceUpperRoomLower CityUpper CityTempleSuburbTo Sychemand DamascusFeet Meters05001,0001,50002505001236457
SNEW
 
Fig 1.—Map of Jerusalem at time of Christ. Jesus left Upper Room and walked with disciples to Mount of Olivesand Garden of Gethsemane (1), where he was arrested and taken first to Annas and then to Caiaphas (2). After first trial before political Sanhedrin at Caiaphas’ residence, Jesus was tried again before religious Sanhedrin,probably at Temple (3) Next, he was taken to Pontius Pilate (4), who sent him to Herod Antipas (5). Herodreturned Jesus to Pilate (6), and Pilate finally handed over Jesus for scourging at Fortress of Antonia and for crucifixion at Golgotha (7). (Modified from Pfeiffer et al.
30
)
 April 6 [Nisan 13], and Jesus wouldhave been crucified on Friday, April 7[Nisan 14].
29
) At nearby Gethsemane,Jesus, apparently knowing that thetime of his death was near, sufferedgreat mental anguish, and, as de-scribed by the physician Luke, hissweat became like blood.
1
  Although this is a very rare phe-nomenon, bloody sweat (hematidrosisor hemohidrosis) may occur in highlyemotional states or in persons withbleeding disorders.
18-20
As a result of hemorrhage into the sweat glands,the skin becomes fragile and tender.
2,11
 Luke’s description supports the diag-nosis of hematidrosis rather thaneccrine chromidrosis (brown or yel-low-green sweat) or stigmatization(blood oozing from the palms or else-where).
18-21
Although some authorshave suggested that hematidrosisproduced hypovolemia, we agree withBucklin
5
that Jesus’ actual blood lossprobably was minimal. However, inthe cold night air,
1
it may have pro-duced chills.
TRIALS
Jewish Trials
Soon after midnight, Jesus wasarrested at Gethsemane by the tem-ple officials and was taken first to Annas and then to Caiaphas, theJewish high priest for that year (Fig1).
1
Between 1
AM
and daybreak, Jesuswas tried before Caiaphas and thepolitical Sanhedrin and was foundguilty of blasphemy.
1
The guards thenblindfolded Jesus, spat on him, andstruck him in the face with theirfists.
1
Soon after daybreak, presum-ably at the temple (Fig l), Jesus wastried before the religious Sanhedrin(with the Pharisees and the Saddu-cees) and again was found guilty of blasphemy, a crime punishable bydeath.
1,5
 
Roman Trials
Since permission for an executionhad to come from the governingRomans,
1
Jesus was taken early in themorning by the temple officials to thePraetorium of the Fortress of Anton-ia, the residence and governmentalseat of Pontius Pilate, the procuratorof Judea (Fig 1). However, Jesus waspresented to Pilate not as a blas-phemer but rather as a self-appointedking who would undermine the Ro-man authority.
1
Pilate made nocharges against Jesus and sent him to
1456
JAMA March 21, 1986—Vol 255, No. 11 Death of Christ—Edwards et al
 
 
 
WoodenHandleFlagrumLeatherThongsMetal BallsSmall Bone(Pieces)VictimFloggingTop ViewRomanLegionnaireDirection of Whip Against Victim’s BackDirection of Whip Marks
MAYO ©1985
 
Fig 2.—Scourging. Left, Short whip (flagrum) with lead balls and sheep bones tied into leather thongs. Center left, Naked victim tied to flogging post. Deep stripelike lacerations were usually associated with considerableblood loss. Center right, View from above, showing position of lictors. Right, Inferomedial direction of wounds.
Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Judea.
1
Herod likewise made no officialcharges and then returned Jesus toPilate (Fig 1).
1
Again, Pilate couldfind no basis for a legal chargeagainst Jesus, but the people persist-ently demanded crucifixion. Pilatefinally granted their demand andhanded over Jesus to be flogged(scourged) and crucified. (McDowell
25
 has reviewed the prevailing political,religious, and economic climates inJerusalem at the time of Jesus’ death,and Bucklin
5
has described the vari-ous illegalities of the Jewish andRoman trials.)
Health of Jesus
The rigors of Jesus’ ministry (thatis, traveling by foot throughout Pal-estine) would have precluded anymajor physical illness or a weak gen-eral constitution. Accordingly, it isreasonable to assume that Jesus wasin good physical condition before hiswalk to Gethsemane. However, dur-ing the 12 hours between 9
PM
Thurs-day and 9
AM
Friday, he had sufferedgreat emotional stress (as evidencedby hematidrosis), abandonment byhis closest friends (the disciples), anda physical beating (after the firstJewish trial). Also, in the setting of atraumatic and sleepless night, he hadbeen forced to walk more than 2.5miles (4.0 km) to and from the sites of the various trials (Fig 1). These phys-ical and emotional factors may haverendered Jesus particularly vulnera-ble to the adverse hemodynamiceffects of the scourging.
SCOURGING
Scourging Practices
Flogging was a legal preliminary toevery Roman execution,
28
and onlywomen and Roman senators or sol-diers (except in cases of desertion)were exempt.
11
The usual instrumentwas a short whip (flagellum or flagel-lum) with several single or braidedleather thongs of variable lengths, inwhich small iron balls or sharp piecesof sheep bones were tied at intervals(Fig 2).
5,7,11
Occasionally, staves alsowere used.
8,12
For scourging, the manwas stripped of his clothing, and hishands were tied to an upright post(Fig 2).
11
The back, buttocks, and legswere flogged either by two soldiers(lictors) or by one who alternatedpositions.
5,7,11,28
The severity of thescourging depended on the dispositionof the lictors and was intended toweaken the victim to a state justshort of collapse or death.
8
After thescourging, the soldiers often tauntedtheir victim.
11
 
Medical Aspects of Scourging
 As the Roman soldiers repeatedlystruck the victim’s back with fullforce, the iron balls would cause deepcontusions, and the leather thongsand sheep bones would cut into theskin and subcutaneous tissues.
7
Then,as the flogging continued, the lacera-tions would tear into the underlyingskeletal muscles and produce quiver-ing ribbons of bleeding flesh.
2,7,25
Painand blood loss generally set the stagefor circulatory shock.
12
The extent of blood loss may well have determinedhow long the victim would survive onthe cross.
8
 
Scourging of Jesus
 At the Praetorium, Jesus wasseverely whipped. (Although the se-verity of the scourging is not dis-
JAMA March 21, 1986—Vol 255, No. 11 Death of Christ—Edwards et al
1457
 

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