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Naves Topical Bible Dictionary

crucifixion Summary and Overview

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crucifixion in Easton's Bible Dictionary

a common mode of punishment among heathen nations in early times. It is not certain whether it was known among the ancient Jews; probably it was not. The modes of capital punishment according to the Mosaic law were, by the sword (Ex. 21), strangling, fire (Lev. 20), and stoning (Deut. 21). This was regarded as the most horrible form of death, and to a Jew it would acquire greater horror from the curse in Deut. 21:23. This punishment began by subjecting the sufferer to scourging. In the case of our Lord, however, his scourging was rather before the sentence was passed upon him, and was inflicted by Pilate for the purpose, probably, of exciting pity and procuring his escape from further punishment (Luke 23:22; John 19:1). The condemned one carried his own cross to the place of execution, which was outside the city, in some conspicuous place set apart for the purpose. Before the nailing to the cross took place, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh (the sopor) was given, for the purpose of deadening the pangs of the sufferer. Our Lord refused this cup, that his senses might be clear (Matt. 27:34). The spongeful of vinegar, sour wine, posca, the common drink of the Roman soldiers, which was put on a hyssop stalk and offered to our Lord in contemptuous pity (Matt. 27:48; Luke 23:36), he tasted to allay the agonies of his thirst (John 19:29). The accounts given of the crucifixion of our Lord are in entire agreement with the customs and practices of the Roman in such cases. He was crucified between two "malefactors" (Isa. 53:12; Luke 23:32), and was watched by a party of four soldiers (John 19:23; Matt. 27:36, 54), with their centurion. The "breaking of the legs" of the malefactors was intended to hasten death, and put them out of misery (John 19:31); but the unusual rapidity of our Lord's death (19:33) was due to his previous sufferings and his great mental anguish. The omission of the breaking of his legs was the fulfilment of a type (Ex. 12:46). He literally died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart, and hence the flowing of blood and water from the wound made by the soldier's spear (John 19:34). Our Lord uttered seven memorable words from the cross, namely, (1) Luke 23:34; (2) 23:43; (3) John 19:26; (4) Matt. 27:46, Mark 15:34; (5) John 19:28; (6) 19:30; (7) Luke 23:46.

crucifixion in Smith's Bible Dictionary

was in used among the Egyptians, #Ge 40:19| the Carthaginians, the Persians, #Es 7:10| the Assyrians, Scythains, Indians, Germans, and from the earliest times among the Greeks and Romans. Whether this mode of execution was known to the ancient Jews is a matter of dispute. Probably the Jews borrowed it from the Romans. It was unanimously considered the most horrible form of death. Among the Romans the degradation was also a part of the infliction, and the punishment if applied to freemen was only used in the case of the vilest criminals. The one to be crucified was stripped naked of all his clothes, and then followed the most awful moment of all. He was laid down upon the implement of torture. His arms were stretched along the cross-beams, and at the centre of the open palms the point of a huge iron nail was placed, which, by the blow of a mallet, was driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately, or possibly through both together, as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore its way through the quivering flesh. Whether the sufferer was also bound to the cross we do not know; but, to prevent the hands and feet being torn away by the weight of the body, which could not "rest upon nothing but four great wounds," there was, about the centre of the cross, a wooden projection strong enough to support, at least in part, a human body, which soon became a weight of agony. Then the "accursed tree" with its living human burden was slowly heaved up and the end fixed firmly in a hole in the ground. The feet were but a little raised above the earth. The victim was in full reach of every hand that might choose to strike. A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible and ghastly, --dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation, mortification of untended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with surcharged blood; and, while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing, there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such was the death to which Christ was doomed. --Farrar's "Life of Christ." The crucified was watched, according to custom, by a party of four soldiers, #Joh 19:23| with their centurion, #Mt 27:66| whose express office was to prevent the stealing of the body. This was necessary from the lingering character of the death, which sometimes did not supervene even for three days, and was at last the result of gradual benumbing and starvation. But for this guard, the persons might have been taken down and recovered, as was actually done in the case of a friend of Josephus. Fracture of the legs was especially adopted by the Jews to hasten death. #Joh 19:31| In most cases the body was suffered to rot on the cross by the action of sun and rain, or to be devoured by birds and beasts. Sepulture was generally therefore forbidden; but in consequence of #De 21:22,23| an express national exception was made in favor of the Jews. #Mt 27:58| This accursed and awful mode of punishment was happily abolished by Constantine.

crucifixion in Schaff's Bible Dictionary

CRU'CIFIXION Matt 23:34; Matt 27:32. Crucifixion is a mode of execution of great antiquity, and still prevails among the Hindoos and Chinese. It was regarded by the Romans as the basest and most ignominious death, deserved only by traitors and slaves. Luke 23:32. It was an accursed death. Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13. Hence the force of the expressions 1 Cor 1:23; Phil 2:8; Heb 12:2. As soon as the sentence was pronounced, "Thou shalt be crucified," the person was stripped and fastened to a post about as high as the waist, and was then scourged with rods or whips made of leather strips armed with small bits of lead or bone, and often so severely as to occasion death. After the scourging the person was compelled to bear his own cross to the place of execution. This was usually an elevated place without the city, and near the highway. There are three forms of the cross-one in which the two pieces of wood cross below the top, one in which they are placed one on the top of the other, and one in which they are placed diagonally: Three Forms of the Cross. The first is the usual form; the second' is probably the oldest. The monogram of Christ used by the early Christians and by Constantine represents the cross with the initials of the name of Christ (the X and the P), thus: The cross was so fixed into the earth that the feet of the sulferer were usually about 2 feet from the ground. In or near the middle of the upright post there was a projection, to which he was raised by cords; and being previously divested of his clothing, he was first bound to the cross-beam, and then nailed by his hands, with strong iron spikes, to its extremities. There is conclusive evidence from profane history that the hands were pierced in this way, and that it was peculiar to the punishment of crucifixion, but whether the feet were nailed separately, or whether a single nail transfixed them both, or whether they were merely tied to the beam by a cord, is doubtful. In order to lessen the pain, it was customary to give the sufferer wine medicated with myrrh, etc. Our Redeemer rejected this draught, Mark 15:23, choosing to suffer to the full extent the pains of death. Vinegar, too, was a refreshing and sustaining drink, and was offered to him. Matt 27:48. The criminal was fastened to the cross by four soldiers appointed for the purpose, who were allowed the apparel of the sufferer as the perquisite of their office. Matt 27:35. Over the cross was commonly placed a writing or superscription, indicating the offence for which the individual was put to death. It was called by the Romans titulus, or the title. John 19:19-22. Among the Romans the prisoner often remained upon the cross till his body fell to the earth by its own weight, but the Jews were permitted, in obedience to the precept of their law, Deut 21:22-23, to terminate the sufferings of the malefactor before sundown. This was effected in various ways-sometimes by setting fire to the foot of the cross, and at others by breaking the limbs with a hammer or piercing the body with a lance. John 19:31-37. The agonies of this death were extreme. Cicero says: "The executioner, the covering of the head, the very name of the cross, should be removed afar, not only from the body, but from the thoughts, the eyes, the ears, of Roman citizens; for of all these things, not only the actual occurrence and endurance, but the very contingency and expectation-nay, the mention itself-is unworthy of a Roman citizen and a freeman." The judges denominated it "the utmost torment, the extremest punishment." The extension of the limbs just after so severe a scourging, and the impossibility of making the slightest motion without occasioning suffering, the piercing of the hands and feet in the parts most susceptible of acute and agonizing pain, the exposure of the wounded and lacerated flesh to the action of the sun and air hour after hour, the loss of blood, and the sense of the indignity and contempt, which, as shown to our Saviour, was the most bitter, malicious, and unsparing that can be conceived,-all conspired to make it, to the very last degree, a death of pain. Often the strength of the malefactor lingered for three days, and even longer. Hence the surprise of Pilate. Mark 15:44. The figure of a cross has often been represented on the banners of contending armies, thus: With the conversion of the Roman empire, the cross, from a sign of shame, became a sign of honor. It reminds us of the great price of our salvation, and points the true way to immortality and glory: "No cross, no crown." The cross is often used figuratively for those reproaches, self-denials, and sacrifices which the true followers of Christ must be expected to endure if they faithfully maintain their profession. Matt 16:24. The classic work upon the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus is Justus Lipsius's (d. 1606) De Cruce, 1595. But in 1878, Herman Fulda, pastor near Halle, Germany, issued a work entitled Das Kreuz und die Kreuzigung, which maintains that Lipsius and all his followers are wrong. This statement he fortifies by a fresh examination of the sources. According to Fulda, the cross of Jesus was a post. His hands were nailed on either side of it; his feet, the knees being much bent, were fastened by a stout cord to this post, but not nailed, and they, together with the nailed hands, supported the body. Owing to haste, he deems it probable that the customary "seat" fastened to the cross as a partial support was wanting. Fulda finds in this extremely painful position one reason for the speedy death of Jesus, which occasioned Pilate's incredulity.