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Deicide: The execution of Jesus. How, when,
where, why, and by whom was Jesus executed?

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Note:

This essay is written from the Christian perspective that Yeshua of Nazareth (Jesus Christ) was crucified circa 30 CE in Jerusalem, Judea. It assumes that Muslim teaching is incorrect. Muslims generally believe that the gospels in the Christian Scriptures are wrong, and that Yeshua was neither crucified nor resurrected.

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How was Yeshua killed?

He was killed by crucifixion - a technique reserved for punishing slaves and persons perceived by the occupying Roman Army as rebels or terrorists. He was first flogged. Then he was attached, naked, to a wooden apparatus and exposed to die. It was an upright post that may have had a horizontal beam connected to it at or near the top. His wrists were nailed and/or his arms were tied in place. His ankles were nailed or tied to the post. Over time, crucifixion victims were no longer able to raise themselves so that they could breath. Death was usually by asphyxiation. It typically took a few days for the convicted person to expire. It was normally a slow, agonizing, humiliating, horrible death designed to strike terror in the hearts of the Jewish public.

The traditional portrayal of Christ's crucifixion is contains many errors:
bulletWhen used, nails pierced the victim' wrists between his two forearm bones, not his hands. The weight of a body would have torn the hand free from a nail if it were driven through a palm.

bulletA piece of wood was placed next to the flesh before the nail was hammered in place. This prevented the victim from pulling his arm or leg free. 

bulletThe victim was not usually suspended high off the ground; his feet would probably have been only a short distance above the earth. Dogs, crows, and other scavengers were often able to attack the victim, and to tear flesh from the dead body. 

bulletThe victim was naked; they were not even permitted a loin cloth to wear.

Many configurations of wooden structures were used by the Romans to perform crucifixions:

bulletSometimes, a single vertical pole was used. Jehovah's Witnesses teach that this was the type of execution device used for Jesus.

bullet Other crucifixions were conducted using a pole with a cross-beam at the top of the pole to form the shape of the letter "T".

bulletStill others used the type of Roman cross that is so often shown in crucifixes, Protestant crosses, and religious artwork -- a vertical post and a horizontal cross-beam slightly below the top of the post.

There does not appear to be conclusive evidence of the exact design that was used to execute Jesus.

After the victim was dead, the body was typically thrown on a dump to be eaten by scavenging animals. Some liberal theologians believe that this was Jesus' fate. The Gospels give a different story; they describe how Joseph of Arimathea obtained special permission to lay Jesus' body in his unused tomb.

Crucifixions were carefully designed to generate the greatest feelings of horror and thus to have the greatest deterrent effect on the populace. They were a form of psychological terrorism by the government:
bulletThe victim was usually scourged in advance of the crucifixion - frequently to the point of near death. A few did not survive the flogging.

bulletThe victim was often required to carry the cross-piece of the cross to the place of execution and to endure the taunts of the people along the way.

bulletNails driven through his wrists and ankles would be horrendously painful.

bulletThe victim was hung naked and fully exposed to the public view.

bullet Crucifixions usually took place close to a heavily traveled road, in order to maximize the number of people who would view them.

bulletDeuteronomy 21:23 says: "for he who is hanged [on a tree] is accursed of God." Jews believed that anyone who was crucified was cursed by God.

bulletIn all probability, the victim would be attacked by birds and perhaps other scavenging animals while dying.

bullet When the victim died, the body would not normally be given a proper burial but would probably be eaten by animals.

This was a horrendous fate for a Jew at the time - even more that it would have been for followers of other religions.

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When was Yeshua killed?

Most people believe that Jesus was crucified starting on a Friday morning, in the spring time, near the time of Passover about the year 30 CE. The Gospels of Mark 15; Matthew 27; Luke 23 John 19 and Peter 4 & 5 record events associated with the crucifixion.

Like the four canonical Gospels, Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, the author of the Gospel of Peter is unknown. The Gospel is pseudepigraphical. That is, it states that the author was Peter, one of Jesus'' disciples. However Peter did not actually write it. Most theologians believe that it was written long after Peter's death, sometime in the 2nd century CE. It was never accepted into the official canon of the Christian Scriptures.

Most Gospel writers state the crucifixion began at the 3rd hour (9 AM), and that Jesus died about the 9th hour (3 PM). The exact year is unknown. Estimates range from 29 to 33 CE.

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Where was Yeshua killed?

He was executed at Golgotha, The Place of the Skull, in Jerusalem, Judea. This was the location where executions were performed in that city. It was originally located outside the city gates. Jerusalem has since grown to encompass the execution site. Golgotha's exact location is not known today with certainty. A church has been erected on what some Christians believe was the location of the crucifixion.

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Who killed Yeshua?

He was executed by soldiers of the Jerusalem garrison of the Roman army. They were the only organization in 1st century Palestine authorized to carry out crucifixions. They were also the only group with the necessary experience to carry out this grisly task with efficiency.

The gospels record that the execution was authorized by Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judea. The Bible describes that Pilate's judgment was greatly influenced by the local Jewish leaders and by an angry Jewish mob of unknown size. Most conservative Christians believe that the Gospel story is precise, and free of error. Many religious liberals view this story as unhistorical, anti-Jewish propaganda. Pilate was known to be an arrogant ruler who would not have been swayed by the demands of a Jewish mob. Also, there are many events recorded in the Bible about Jesus' trial which would not have been permitted at the time by the rules of the Great Sanhedrin -- the highest religious court in Israel.

Three facts might be helpful in assessing the steps that led to Jesus' execution:

  • The events happened near the time of Passover when Jerusalem was overwhelmingly crowded with visitors. Religious passions and nationalistic feelings were at their peak.

  • Jesus alleged aggravated assault on the moneychangers occurred outside the temple building itself.

  • There was a Roman garrison building adjacent to and overlooking the Jerusalem Temple. The vicinity would have been crawling with Roman soldiers on guard to detect any disturbance.

It is almost certain that anyone who committed aggravated assault in the Jerusalem Temple at this time would have been detected by the soldiers. Standard practice would have the person seized, and taken before an officer. He would certainly consider Jesus to be guilty of insurrection under Roman law and sentenced to crucifixion on the spot.

Unfortunately, the Christian Church has historically considered the Jewish people to be guilty of the death of Jesus. This would include not only the Jewish mob in front of Pilate, but all Jews in Jerusalem at the time, all Jews throughout Judea, all Jews in the diaspora, their children, their grand-children, all the way through about 75 generations until the mid-20th Century.

This, of course, is totally irrational. To hold a person responsible for an act committed almost two millennia before their birth by an ancient ancestor is a violation of fundamental justice. It is scapegoating. Yet one still occasionally hears the accusation "Christ killer" yelled at Jews. Fortunately, during the 20th essentially all Christian denominations ceased to blame present-day Jews for events circa 30 CE. Unfortunately stories that hold an innocent person(s) responsible for the crimes or sins of a guilty person is found in many places throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and is still a foundational belief for some Christians.

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Why did the Romans decide kill Yeshua?

Many theologians reason that since Jesus was not a slave, then he must have been viewed by the Roman authorities as a rebel -- a threat to the established order. Only slaves, and persons considered traitors or insurrectionists were crucified by the Roman occupying forces.

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 Home > World religions > Judaism > Jesus death > here

or Home > Christianity > Personalities > Jesus > Jesus death > here

or Home > Christianity > Relations with other religions > Jesus death > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2015-APR-21
Author: B.A. Robinson
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