Ahmadiya Muslims teach that Jesus fled to India after swooning on the cross and crawling out of his grave. In fact, the town of Srinagar, Kashmir supposedly houses his final burial site. The Qur’an teaches that Jesus was replaced by a substitute and never hung upon the cross. Skeptical scholars from the 19th century onward have contested that Jesus fainted from exhaustion and/or was administered an anesthetic (remember the vinegar-soaked sponge He was offered after declaring His thirst?) which made Him appear to die. Consequently He revived (not resurrected) after being taken down from the cross and presented Himself to the apostles. This, according to our critics, explains the disciples’ belief in a miraculous, risen Christ. In order to evaluate the strength of the “swoon theory”, we must establish what Jesus’ physical punishment consisted of. In doing so, we will better understand the probability of His survival, His ability to walk away from His tomb and His potential for convincing the scared, refugee disciples that He had miraculously conquered death.
Before moving on, we must remember that Jesus’ public execution by crucifixion is one of the best established historical facts concerning His life. Roman and Jewish sources testify to this, as do the Gnostic Gospels, the writings of the early church fathers and also the remarkably historically accurate New Testament. We will now look at details concerning crucifixion, as well as the New Testament’s description of the beatings inflicted on Jesus before He ever got to the cross.
Before the Cross: Jesus’ trial and punishment leading up to the Crucifixion
According to Alexander Metherell, M.D., Ph.D, Jesus’ suffering began at the Garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. Knowing that His suffering on the cross was eminent, He began experiencing intense psychological stress. The Gospels describe that Jesus began to sweat blood. This is a medical condition known as hematidrosis. It occurs when stress chemicals are released and damage the capillaries in the sweat glands. Consequently, blood enters the glands and is mixed with sweat as it is released. Furthermore, this chemical process also renders skin extremely sensitive. So Jesus’ consequent flogging by the Romans would be made much more excruciating. Roman flogging was done with braided leather thongs attached to metal balls and pieces of sharp bone. The metal bruised the flesh, which filled with blood underneath the skin. Then the bone shards would pop these large blood “blisters” and bleeding was profuse. The pain was exceptional. Standard flogging covered the skin of the victim’s entire back and posterior legs.
As the process of flogging continued along its minimum 39 lashes, the muscles were exposed, shredded and hanging in quivering ribbons. Veins, bowels and bones began to be exposed, open to infection. Bleeding was so severe that, according to other physicians and 3rd century historian Eusebius, death was not uncommon at that point. When blood levels decrease below a certain volume, the heart begins to race to speed up blood flow. This substitutes for lack of blood: getting more out of the little blood that you have left. Kidneys begin shutting down to prevent loss of blood volume because water from blood is necessary for creation of urine. Thirst becomes intense and fatigue almost indescribable. This critical condition makes it understandable that someone had to help Jesus carry a 100-plus pound cross beam up the streets of Jerusalem and the banks of Golgotha. Before having to carry His cross, however, Jesus is mocked, spit on and struck about the head region. A thorny “crown” is pushed into the skin of his sensitive scalp (remember the effects of hematidrosis), and a robe is put over his shoulders and back. Because of His shredded, open and bleeding back, Jesus begins adhering to the robe via blood clotting. A while later the robe is ripped off his back, re-opening multiple wounds and causing intense pain.
At the Cross
Unlike the sterile and clinical modern-day lethal injection, crucifixion is the most painful method of execution ever devised by man. Five to seven inch-long spikes were driven between the radius and ulna, just underneath the carpal bones. This area corresponds to the skin creases on your wrists. Such a process severed the median nerve, causing fingers to adopt the “hand of benediction” position (due to inability of thumb, index and middle finger to flex). Burying the spike into the carpals prevented the weight of the body for tearing through the hands, prematurely releasing the prisoner from his cross. Slicing and crushing the median nerve is itself an extremely painful experience. The deep burning sensation sometimes accompanying hard “funny bone” impacts gives us an idea of such a horrible feeling. Nails were also driven through the bones of the feet, further securing the prisoner and severing branches of the tibial nerve, causing pain and paralysis. Again the nerve crushing would provide copious amounts and levels of pain. After the nailing, the cross was erected, applying the full weight of the body onto the joints of the spiked wrists, the elbows, and the shoulders. Either instantly or over time the shoulders would dislocate. Of interest here is the Psalm 22 passage “my bones are out of joint” which Christians believe foreshadowed the Lord’s experience on the cross. For those of you who have experienced bones going out of joint, you can attest to the fact that it is a more painful and disturbing sensation than most fractures.
Ultimately, the cause of death on the cross is asphyxiation-induced heart failure. As the prisoner hangs from his “tree,” the muscles of the rib cage are stretched and exhausted to the point where they cannot perform their necessary contractions and relaxations. The pectorals, intercostals and other accessory breathing muscles normally lift the ribs up to change the inner pressure of our thorax. When they relax, the rib cage “shrinks” and pushes air out. This provides us with inhalation and exhalation. However, when hanging from the cross, the rib cage is locked into an inhalation (or inspiration) position, preventing exhalation (or expiration) and therefore normal breathing. When you cannot breathe out or in, carbon dioxide is unable to be released by the lungs in exchange for oxygen, so it dissolves into carbonic acid. If you have ever been underwater for longer than you would like, you probably have felt the burning sensation of carbonic acid spreading throughout your system. The body registers this acidic compound by sending burning sensations to the brain. Eventually, irregular heart beats (arrhythmia) caused by the carbonic acid result in a lethal heart failure. As the breathing becomes more labored, crucifixion victims push up with their nailed feet to relax the load on their arms, allowing the rib cage to relax. Imagine pressing into the nails driven through your bones to sneak in a shallow, gasping exhale. This process had to be repeated as long as you wanted to be able to breathe out. Remember that Jesus only uttered seven short sentences while on the cross. Speaking is an act of controlled exhalation and is more difficult that simple, quick and crude gasps. Even under this duress Christ spoke in love and grace:
1.”Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
2.”Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”
3.”Behold thy mother…Woman behold thy son.”
4.”My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
6.”It is finished.”
7.”Father! Into thy hands I commit my spirit.”
Remember also that, in order to make speaking or breathing possible, the very act of moving up and down against a piece of splintered wood when your back was shredded from floggings is itself horrific. If the process of asphyxiation as described here was taking too long, Romans typically sped things up by shattering the legs of the victims, preventing any ability to press upwards. An Old Testament prophecy stated the Messiah would not have any bones broken. Jesus’ flogging had sped up His death, making this procedure unnecessary and also fulfilling a messianic requirement.
Rapid heart beats marching towards heart failure, slow asphyxiation, growing blood loss of a flogged and nailed prisoner ultimately led to the most painful death ever devised by mankind. Heart failure causes fluid to collect around the tissues of the heart and the lungs. So if a Roman soldier was to pierce such a victim with a spear, penetrating lungs and heart, a clear fluid would come out, followed by copious amounts of blood. This was the eye witness testimony given by John. From Jesus’ perspective, the build up of serum around the heart would cause painful pressure to this organ and generate intense discomfort and pain. Let’s once again look back to Psalm 22:14 “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.”
Considering the possibilities
Would a Jesus in the above state be anything other than dead? Roman soldiers were expert killers. If their prisoners escaped, their lives would be demanded. So they didn’t leave jobs half done. Some have advanced that Jesus was drugged when He tasted the watery vinegar on the sponge. However, this does little to overcome the lethal wounds He suffered. Or the horrific damage which would repel the apostles not raised their spirits. In all likeliness, attempts to create a Jesus who survived the brutal execution methods of the oppressive Romans are simply that: creations. Facts are not friendly to these theories.
Considering what we know and have good reason to believe concerning Jesus’ final hours before the cross, as well as on the cross, is it likely that He would have survived? Even if He were to survive, would His unbelievably hopeless condition have been recoverable 2 thousand years before modern medicine (and even with modern medicine)? Would He have had the strength to escape from a tomb blocked by a boulder? Rush past guards? Would His condition have inspired the cowardly disciples to exclaim Christ had miraculously recuperated from death on the cross? Or would they have only been attending to a dying would-be messiah, further confirming their mounting fears that Jesus had simply been human? A battered man whose back was shredded, whose beard was pulled out by force, whose hands and feet were paralyzed, whose shoulders were dislocated and whose side had been punctured by a Roman speared would have frightened away the disciples, not rallied them to go suffer the same horrific fate. Let us be honest: Romans successfully executed a man named Jesus of Nazareth during the reign of Tiberius Caesar, as commanded by Pontius Pilate due to pressure from the occupied Jewish religious leaders. To deny this fact is to swim hopelessly against the current of overwhelming evidence. It is blind faith. What then would have motivated Jesus’ earliest followers to go to their deaths proclaiming a risen Messiah who had conquered death?…
RECAP of Christ’s Sufferings:
* Extreme psychological stress can release a chemical which ruptures delicate capillaries surrounding sweat glands. Blood mixes with sweat.
* Renders skin extremely sensitive.
2. Roman flogging
* Turns victim’s back into shredded ribbons of quivering muscles.
* Causes excessive blood loss.
* Begins process which leads to heart failure
3. Roman beatings
* Crown of thorns stuck into sensitive scalp.
* Pulling out beard with hands.
* Hitting head and face. Spitting.
* Robe placed onto back, allow scabs to adhere to robe. Robe ripped off, re-opening back wounds.
· Nailing to cross severs median nerve and nerves in feet.
· Hanging from cross with full body weight prevents rib cage from allowing exhalation & therefore breathing.
· Shoulders dislocate.
· Breathing made possible only by pushing up with feet to relax load on arms. This scrapes shredded back (from floggings) against rough timber.
· Blood loss and asphyxiation make the “chin-ups” necessary for breathing extremely difficult due to increasingly sharp upper and lower body muscle cramps.
· Blood loss and slow, agonizing asphyxiation begin the build-up of fluid around the heart, squeezing the already strained heart and causing tremendous suffering to the victim.
· Victim dies of heart failure and/or asphyxiation.