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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: 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 Roman occupying 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.

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.
bulletOther crucifixion were conducted using a pole with a cross-beam at the top 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 bury Jesus 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.
bulletCrucifixions usually took place close to a heavily traveled road, so that the maximum number of people 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 he was dying.
bulletWhen he died, he 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 on a Friday morning, in the spring time, near the time of Passover about 30 CE. The Gospels of Peter, Chapters 4 & 5; Mark 15; Matthew 27; Luke 23 and John 19 record the events associated with the crucifixion. (The Gospel of Peter was apparently written before the remaining 4 gospels. 1 But 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; a range from 29 to 33 CE has been suggested.

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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 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 at this grisly task. 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 a Jewish mob of unknown size. Most conservative Christians believe that the Gospel story is precise, and free of error. Many religious liberals view this as unhistorical, anti-Jewish propaganda.

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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. Anyone who committed aggravated assault in the Jerusalem Temple near the time of Passover when Jerusalem was crowded with visitors and religious passions were at their maximum, would probably be considered to be an insurrectionist.

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Reference used:

  1. J.D. Crossan, "Who Killed Jesus: Exposing the roots of Anti-Semitism in the Gospel Story of the Death of Jesus," Harper Collins, (1995) Order from Amazon.com

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Site navigation:

 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 1998to 2008 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-JUN-23
Last update: 2008-MAR-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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