Monday, April 3, 2017

Facts About The Day Christ Died

When Was The Day Of Jesus' Death

Jesus on the Cross (painting)

Later Christian tradition put Jesus’ last meal with his disciples on Thursday evening and his crucifixion on what we call today “Good Friday.” We now know that is one day off. Jesus’ last meal was Wednesday night, and he was crucified on Thursday, the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan. The Passover meal itself was eaten Thursday night, at sundown, as the 15th of Nisan began. Jesus never ate that Passover meal. He had died at 3 p.m. on Thursday afternoon.
The reason it matters is that getting the chronology straight that weekend enables us to understand the early tradition that Jesus was in the tomb “three days and three nights,” as well as the chronology of the “Last Supper” and the Passover and how the Sabbaths and festival days correlate together that year. This alternative chronology makes all our pieces fit from our various sources, including the Synoptic Gospels, John, and the Gospel of Peter.

The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci

The confusion arose because all the gospels say that there was a rush to get his body off the cross and buried before sundown because the “Sabbath” was near. Everyone assumed the reference to “the Sabbath” had to be Saturday so the crucifixion must have been on a Friday. However, as Jews know, the day of Passover itself is also a “Sabbath” or rest day no matter what weekday it falls on. In the year 30 AD Friday, the 15th of the Jewish month Nisan was also a Sabbath so two Sabbaths occurred back to back Friday and Saturday. Matthew seems to know this as he says that the women who visited Jesus’ tomb came early Sunday morning “after the Sabbaths” (Matthew 28:1).
As is often the case, the gospel of John preserves a more accurate chronology of what went on. John specifies that the Wednesday night “last supper” was “before the festival of Passover.” He also notes that when Jesus’ accusers delivered him to be crucified on Thursday morning they would not enter Pilate’s courtyard because they would be defiled and would not be able to eat the Passover that evening (John 18:28). John knows that the Jews would be eating their traditional Seder meal Thursday evening.
Reading Mark, Matthew, and Luke one can get the impression that the “last supper” was the Passover meal. Some have even argued that Jesus might have eaten the Passover meal a day early  knowing ahead of time that he would be dead. But the fact is, Jesus ate no Passover meal in 30 CE. When the Passover meal began at sundown on Thursday Jesus was dead. He had been hastily put in a tomb until after the festival when proper and full Jewish burial rites could be carried out.
There are some hints outside of John’s gospel that such was the case. In Luke for example, Jesus tells his followers at that last meal: “I earnestly wanted to eat this Passover with you before I suffer but I won’t eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:14). A later copyist of the manuscript inserted the word “again” to make it say “I won’t eat it again,” since the tradition had developed that Jesus did observe Passover that night and changed its observance to the Christian Eucharist or Mass. Another indication that this is not a Passover meal is that all of our records report that Jesus shared “a loaf of bread” with his disciples, using the Greek word (artos) that refers to an ordinary loaf and not to the unleavened flat bread or matzos that Jews eat with their Passover meals. Also, when Paul refers to the “last supper” significantly he does not say “on the night of Passover,” but rather “on the night Jesus was betrayed,” and he also mentions the “loaf of bread” (1 Corinthians 11:23). If this meal had been the Passover Paul would have surely wanted to say that but he does not.
Jesus stood accused of sedition, not blasphemy which was a civil crime and not a religious one. Rome’s punishment was a painful, and visible, death by crucifixion. In the age of Roman domination, only Rome crucified. And they did it often. The two men who were killed along with Jesus are identified in some translations as “thieves,” but the word can also mean “insurgents,” supporting the idea that crucifixion was a political weapon used to send a message to those still living: Do not stir dissent or this will be the result.

It was a popular method of dispatching threats to the empire. “Romans practiced both random and intentional violence against populations they had conquered, killing tens of thousands by crucifixion,” says New Testament scholar Hal Taussig, who is with the Union Theological Seminary in New York.

New York Times bestselling author Stephen Mansfield described crucifixion in a 2014 article as “an act of state terror.” By the time crucifixion was a staple of the Roman Empire, its justice system had employed strangling, stoning, burning and even boiling in oil as methods of torture and execution. But crucifixion sent a more lingering message.

Jesus would then have been part of this show of power by the Roman Empire. There is also evidence that Jesus’ arrest was part of a broader pattern of violence and fear of revolt that particular Passover circa A.D. 33. Barabbas’s presence fuels the theory that Pilate was concerned with rebels and had already confronted an insurrection before he interrogated Jesus. Some scholars even suggest that the two crucified on either side of Jesus may have been co-conspirators of Barabbas. Clear evidence of the political nature of Jesus’ execution - that Pilate and the high priest were ridding themselves of a “messiah” who might disrupt society - is the sign Pilate demanded be affixed to Jesus’ cross: a scornful signal to the crowds that this death awaits any man the pilgrims might proclaim “the king of the Jews.”
The Physical Horror of Crucifixion

“Crucifixion was a method of torture and not just putting a person to death. It was a particularly cruel and unusual form of disposing of people,” says Jeremy Ward, head of the physiology department at King’s College London. Each aspect of death on the cross had its particular ghastliness, some less accurately depicted by artists than others. The discovery of the bones of a crucified man, now in a museum in Israel, points to the fact that the feet were likely not stacked on the front of the cross. In the remains, the nail goes through the heel, leading to the conclusion that the crucified were more likely nailed with their ankles on either side of the cross’s mast. But, says Ward, some artists’ interpretations have been especially accurate. “The classic position of the hands [in paintings] is that they are clenched. A neurologist suggested that the clench was due to the fact that, if the nail went through, it basically caused neuropathy, or damage to the median nerve, which controls the thumb and the fingers so they would indeed clench in a particular way,” adds Ward. “That wouldn’t have contributed to death, but it wouldn’t have been nice.”

Normally the victim would be led naked to the place of crucifixion. The fact that Jesus' clothes were not taken from him until the point of crucifixion may suggest that he was allowed to retain some form of covering while on the cross itself perhaps out of deference to Jewish objections to nudity. Since, however, the normal undergarment was either a tunic or a loincloth, and Jesus' tunic was taken from him, it is perhaps more likely he was naked. Also, why would the Roman soldiers care about Jewish objection to nudity?

Jesus' Naked Crucifixion

How the crucifixion itself was conducted made a difference. “From contemporaneous writings, it seems that they were being done at all angles. They could be upside down, tied up, nailed up. It was almost up to the people doing it; there didn’t appear to be a standard form,” says Ward. Upside-down would be the quickest means of dispatch, he adds. “The blood goes to the head and it’s much more difficult to maintain blood pressures, and there’d be huge blood pressure in the heart,” says Ward. “One of the many possible causes of death is that you get heart rupture and the heart stops pumping. And being upside-down would certainly speed that up.”

Jesus is said to have expired after six hours. In addition to positioning on the cross, Ward says length of survival also depended on the health of the individual being crucified and on the severity of their treatment beforehand. “They were routinely whipped, then had to carry at least part of the cross to the site of execution. By the time they get there, they’re already pretty traumatized. Probably lost some blood,” says Ward. For some, it could be a day or more. How they were treated once installed on the cross had significant effect, as well. “You have to maintain the weight of the body on the legs, so that the weight on the arms isn’t too much, so you can breathe properly. Gradually the exhaustion gets worse and worse and you can’t keep the weight up,” adds Ward. “And it is known that the guards would break the legs in order to hasten death sometimes.” So was the case with those on either side of Jesus, according to the gospels.

Jesus on the Cross with  Two Thiefs

But breathing wouldn’t have been the only difficulty. “Someone could die because the heart stops due to arrhythmias and irregular beats, which are not meant to be there, so the heart doesn’t pump properly. They would have been sweating in the hot sun. They were probably very hot. Or hypothermic, depending on where it was. And you could end up with the blood volume going down because they’ve lost blood from the whipping, the nails and just not having enough fluid. That would eventually lead to death from hypoglycemic shock,” details Ward. “A hematologist named Brenner in 2005 suggested that it could be a blood clot forming in the lung as the result of trauma.”

And what of the blood and water spilling from Jesus’ side? Ward comes down on the side of physiological accuracy. “If you get a buildup of pressure, which can happen in heart failure and other trauma, you get clear fluid in the lungs,” says Ward. It would have poured out if the legionnaire had lanced Jesus’ lungs, he adds. “It’s exactly the same process as when you stand up for a long time and your legs swell and the fluid goes into the tissues and makes them swell. The same thing can happen in the lungs, which is why patients with heart failure complain of being breathless. Their lungs become stiff and, in the worst cases, their airways start to fill with fluid so they can’t exchange gasses. It’s called pulmonary edema.”

Was that the root cause of Jesus’ death, then? “It was probably a combination of factors,” Ward demurs. “The bottom line is that it was just a horrible way to kill someone. And it was meant to be.”

Jesus' Burial

Jesus' tomb

After the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross, his body was removed and placed in the new (unused) tomb of a wealthy gentleman who was a member of the Hebrew Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathaea. The apostle Matthew wrote: And when evening was come, there came a rich man from Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus’ disciple: this man went to Pilate, and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate commanded it to be given up. And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut out in the rock: and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed (Mt. 27:57-60; cf. Mk. 15:43).

Joseph of Arimathea (icon)

In Judea, if there was an approaching feast day, the bodies of crucified men were taken down and given to relatives. A body was not allowed to hang on a cross after dark. Philo, the Jewish philosopher, writes: Men who had been crucified when this festival and holiday was at hand, were taken down and given up to their relations, in order to receive the honors of sepulcher, and to enjoy such observances as are due to the dead; for ... the sacred character of the festival ought to be observed. (Philo, Flaccus, 10.83)

John's gospel says that Jesus was buried according to the Jewish tradition. This means that the body was washed before it was wrapped in a simple shroud made of fine linen, normally a task performed by the women relatives of the deceased. There were prescribed psalms and prayers said at this time. The body was then placed on a stone shelf within the tomb.

Jesus is Laid in the Tomb (painting)

Jesus'  burial was quickly done. Everything had to be finished in the sort period remaining before sundown  because all the people involved were strict Jews, carefully observant of the Sabbath.
If Jesus' body was the only body in a new tomb, this would rule out the possibility of several dead bodies being confused. Keep in mind that the gospel writers were telling their story after the Resurrection, when there were plenty of doubters to question the veracity of Jesus' death and Resurrection.

Matthew's gospel (27:62-66) mentions an additional measure to prevent the theft of Jesus' body: the posting of a guard at the tomb and the sealing of the tomb. Admittedly this was done on the Saturday morning, but the guard would certainly have checked the tomb first to see if Jesus' body was there.
The tomb was hewn out of solid rock and there was no possibility of a rear entrance or a secret one through which the body might be stolen.

From a strictly human vantage point, the burial of Jesus’ body in the manner described above was a radically unusual procedure. Christ was crucified by Roman authorities at the behest of rebellious Jews (Acts 2:23). According to the Latin poet, Horace, it was the Roman practice to leave a body upon the cross until it decayed. He spoke about crucified slaves “feeding crows on the cross” (Epistle 1.16.46-48). On the other hand, it was the custom of the Jews that any sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin was: not to be buried in the sepulchers of their fathers; but two burying places were appointed by the council, one for those that were slain by the sword and strangled, the other for those that were stoned who also were hanged and burnt.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote: “We consider it a duty to bury even our enemies” (Wars 3.8.5). But, as one scholar has observed, an “area far outside the city of Jerusalem had been consigned for the burial of executed criminals” Additionally, it has been noted that for Pilate “to release the body of a condemned criminal, especially one condemned of high treason,  to someone other than a relative was highly unusual".

Josephus (an image)

Why would the governor permit the corpse of this Jesus, who had created such an upheaval throughout the region, to be released to anyone particularly in view of the fact that Christ had foretold his own resurrection? Great care, therefore, would have been taken to prevent any confiscation of the body. As the chief priests and Pharisees explained the matter to Pilate: "Sir, we remember that that deceiver said while he was yet alive, “After three days I will rise again.” Command therefore that the sepulcher be made sure until the third day, lest haply his disciples come and steal him away, and say unto the people, “He is risen from the dead”: and the last deception will be worse than the first". (Mt. 27:63-64).

The burial of the Jesus' body conformed to neither Jewish nor Roman custom, in terms of how the remains of criminals were dispatched. The immediate explanation lies in the fact that Joseph was an influential Jew of “honorable estate” (Mk. 15:43), who “asked for the body of Jesus.” And Pilate, the Roman governor, for reasons not explained in the biblical text, “commanded it to be given up” (Mt. 27:58).

                                       Modern Crucifixion Pictures

Naked Man in Chains Awaiting Crucifixion

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