Crucifixion: A Brief Historical Introduction (Part 3)
Last time we covered the method of crucifixion, now we turn to:
THE CAUSE OF DEATH
The causes of death during crucifixion are multiplied. Traditionally the cause of death is thought to be from asphyxiation, though Joe Zias says, “however the latest research findings have shown the issue to be more complicated depending upon the manner in which the victim was affixed to the cross.” Though death by asphyxiation is very possible in some cases, and quite possibly is the physical cause of death in the case of Jesus Christ (That this was most likely Jesus’ cause of death is evidenced by the blood and water that flowed from his body after the spear thrust into his abdomen. A victim of asphyxiation would develop a great buildup of cell fluid around the heart in the pericardial sack, hence when Jesus was speared the blood and “water.”), another possible cause is hypovolemic shock. This form of shock is “a condition characterized by a low blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the cell and tissues which leads to irreversible cell and organ injury and eventually death.” (Zias)
In my view, the following presentation highlights the various causes of death in crucifixion in a vivid and accurate manner:
1.The unnatural position and violent tension of the body, which caused a painful sensation from the least motion. 2. The nails, being driven through parts of the hands and feet which are full of nerves and tendons (and yet a distance from the heart), create the most exquisite anguish. 3. The exposure of so many wounds and lacerations brings inflammation, which tends to become gangrene, and every moment increases the poignancy of suffering. 4. In the distended parts of the body more bloods flows through the arteries than can be carried back into the veins: hence too much blood finds its way from the aorta into the head and stomach, and the blood-vessels of the head become pressed and swollen. The general obstruction of circulation which ensues causes an internal excitement, exertion, and anxiety more intolerable than death itself. 5. The inexpressible misery of gradually increasing and lingering anguish. To all this we may add, 6. Burning and raging thirst. (“Crucifixion,” Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature Volume II)
Further causes of death included Roman soldiers lighting fires under the victim, releasing wild dogs upon them, and crucifracture, the breaking of the victim’s legs to prevent any further attempt to sustain their life.