The Crucifixion

As mentioned in the previous section about life under Roman rule, the punishment of crucifixion was not just a was a display of power and a message not to challenge the Roman authority. Typically, the bodies of the crucified individual were allowed to rot out in the open and picked apart by birds, given to dogs for meat, or just cast out into a garbage pit. That Jesus’ body was given for a proper burial was exceptional, speaking both to the standing Joseph had with the Romans and with the Sanhedrin. According to the Bible, Joseph of Arimathea was a secret follower of Jesus, allegedly a member of the Sanhedrin, and according to legend, great uncle of Jesus Himself.

It has been theorized if this were true, Joseph was merely doing what was expected of him as the eldest male member of the family. Jesus’ father Joseph had died prior to the crucifixion, and his only family was his mother Mary and his siblings. If Joseph of Arimathea was indeed his great uncle, it would have been his right to request the body. If he were a wealthy and prominent individual, such as a member of the Sanhedrin, that might have helped make his case to an unsympathetic Roman audience.

It is important here to understand something of not only crucifixion, but of what would have happened immediately afterwards, both when the body was taken from the cross and when it was moved to the tomb. The classical picture of the Crucifixion is much like the one above, nails through the palms, raised high above the crowd, with his two companions companions on either side of his on their own crosses, typically in a different pose as Jesus, (as an artistic impression), so as not to share the honor of being crucified exactly like Jesus. However, the truth of the matter was likely somewhat different.

It is now commonly believed that the nails holding His hands would have been driven through the wrist instead of the palm due to the lack of supporting structure in the hand as opposed to the wrist. In addition, the picture of Jesus dragging the heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem might be in question as well. Although the scene is played out along the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem every day, it is more likely according to some scholars that Jesus carried only a straight plank across His back which would later be raised to something akin to a wooden scaffold upon which several others may have met their fate in similar fashion. When the Romans did resort to crucifixion, they would have likely handed out the punishment to many people at once, and it is thought that despite taking the effort of making an individual upright for each person, the would have had ready a wooden structure, like a scaffold, from which to hang each body. It would seem likely though that there was a plaque placed over each person’s head to state their name and crime. A portion of such a plaque was discovered hidden in a lead coffer over a doorway in the old palace of Empress Helena of Constantinople, and is today kept in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome.

Here is relic called the "Titulus Crucis", allegedly the sign that hung over the head of Jesus on the Cross. It would appear that the lettering on the Titulus is reversed, leading some to believe it to be a forgery, while leading others to use this as a reason why it is authentic. Historical researcher and author Michael Hesseman conducted an extensive study of the Titulus, and believes it to be an authentic relic of the Crucifixion. However, C-14 dating placed it in a time period several hundred years later. Although I have never heard a convincing reason why the lettering on the Titulus is reversed, I believe a likely explanation that would explain both these facts is that this is a "Holy Copy" — a facsimile created from an original relic by either placing it on top of the original and later recreating the image by carving, or simply by having an artisan make a copy by hand while observing the original. It is known that this sort of "duplication" was used to make copies of the Sudarium of Ovieto seen throughout Europe. Therefore, I believe this is more likely a revered copy, but of an original relic that once existed, and is now most likely lost.

Here is a good depiction of the sort of crosspiece or "plank" that Jesus might have carried, as well as the placement and style of the Titulus. It has been thought that perhaps the Cross of the crucifixion was not of the standard single upright and crosspiece as commonly depicted, but more a type of "scaffold" or framed structure on which the crucified were placed for a time, and then taken down, making room for other peopled sentenced to die by crucifixion.

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