730. Crucifixion

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Crucifixion was not a Jewish punishment, though among the Jews culprits were sometimes tied to a stake by their hands after death. See Deuteronomy 21:2222And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: (Deuteronomy 21:22). It was an ancient mode of capital punishment, and is said to have been devised by Semiramis. It was in use by the Persians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Scythians, Greeks, Romans, and ancient Germans. It was a most shameful and degrading punishment, and among the Romans was the fate of robbers, assassins, and rebels. It was especially the punishment of criminal slaves.
There were several kinds of crosses used. One consisted of two beams of wood laid across each other in the form of an X. Another had two beams of unequal length, the shorter placed on top of the longer, like the letter T. In a third variety, a small portion of the longer piece appeared above the transverse beam, thus: and on this the inscription was placed. See note on Matthew 27:3737And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Matthew 27:37) (#732). This was doubtless the form of cross on which our Lord was crucified. From the center of the perpendicular beam there projected a wooden plug or horn, on which the body of the condemned rested. The bottom of the cross was sharpened, that it might be more easily driven into the ground. The ordinary representations of the cross in paintings and engravings are incorrect, inasmuch as they make it appear larger and heavier than the reality. It was not generally more than ten feet high, so that when erected, a part of it being in the earth, the feet of the sufferer were not far from the ground.
The condemned man was first stripped of his clothing, which seems to have been the perquisite of the executioners. See John 19:23-2423Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. 24They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. (John 19:23‑24). He was then fastened to the cross, which had been previously fixed in the earth—though sometimes he was first fixed to the cross—which was then lifted and thrust into the ground. He sat on the middle bar or horn, already mentioned, and his limbs were stretched out and tied to the bars of the cross. Large iron spikes were then driven through the hands and feet. Sometimes the feet were nailed separately, and at other times they were crossed and a long spike was driven through them both.
In this situation the poor sufferer was left to linger until death slowly came to his relief. This usually required two or three days, though some lingered a longer time before their sufferings ended. The pain was very severe, though not so intense as has sometimes been represented. On this subject Dr. Stroud says: “The bodily sufferings attending this punishment were doubtless great; but, either through ignorance or design, have been much exaggerated. The insertion of the cross into its hole or socket, when the criminal was previously attached to it, did not necessarily produce the violent concussion which has been supposed; and, as the body rested on a bar, it did not bear with its whole weight on the perforated extremities. At all events there have been many examples of persons enduring these sufferings with the utmost fortitude, and almost without a complaint, until relieved from them by death. A fact of importance to be known, but which has not been sufficiently regarded, is that crucifixion was a very lingering punishment, and proved fatal, not so much by loss of blood—since the wounds in the hands and feet did not lacerate any large vessel, and were nearly closed by the nails which produced them—as by the slow process of nervous irritation and exhaustion” (The Physical Cause of the Death ... , p. 55).
After death the body was left to be devoured by beasts and birds of prey. The Romans, however, made an exception in favor of all Jews who were crucified; this was on account of their law, as contained in Deuteronomy 21:22-2322And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: 23His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:22‑23). They were permitted to bury the crucified Jews on the day of crucifixion. This usually made it necessary to hasten their death, which was done by kindling a fire under them, or by letting hungry beasts attack them, or by breaking their bones with an iron mallet.