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View Full Version : Why did they nail Jesus when most guys got rope?


Engywook
06-28-2002, 09:01 PM
I've heard many times that the Romans usually tied condemned men to the cross. Nailing the wrists was supposed to be a rare, severe punishment, reserved for the very worst of felons.

From what I've read here, among other places, Jesus was a rather forgettable, run-of-the mill prisoner. Assuming that Jesus really did live, and really was crucified, for approximately the reasons we usually hear, why would he have gotten nails?

Dr. Lao
06-28-2002, 09:06 PM
Maybe he didn't. Since there is no Roman record of who was executed, why, and in what manner; there is really no way to know for sure.

jimmmy
06-28-2002, 09:31 PM
What little physical evidence we have of crucifixion circa Jesus’ time and place indicates that nails were used.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/religion/jesus/crucifixion.html

TheeGrumpy
06-28-2002, 09:49 PM
Because otherwise Jesus couldn't have quoted from Psalm 22 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which also includes the phrase "they have pierced my hands and feet" (verse 16).

Of course, Psalm 22:6 says "I am a worm and not a man," so it's not clear how literally Jesus or the Gospel writers meant it.

Arnold Winkelried
06-28-2002, 10:58 PM
Straight Dope Staff Report by SDSTAFF Dex:
Who killed Jesus? (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mjesuskill.html)crucifixion as a method of execution was a popular Roman entertainment.

Arnold Winkelried
06-28-2002, 10:59 PM
I should have read the OP more carefully. The question was "why nails instead of rope?" and not "why was he crucified?" Sorry.

Dr. Lao
06-29-2002, 12:00 AM
Originally posted by TheeGrumpy
Because otherwise Jesus couldn't have quoted from Psalm 22 "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" which also includes the phrase "they have pierced my hands and feet" (verse 16).Interestingly, this was almost assuredly not the case. When the Romans nailed people to a cross, the nails had to go through the wrist, not the hand. The hand cannot support the weight of the body in this manner and the body will not stay up.

Bryan Ekers
06-29-2002, 12:09 AM
I've never understood trying to argue against a palm crucifixion using the supported body weight issue. Why couldn't the Romans have used rope and nails? Tie a man's arms and legs to a cross. The rope supports his weight. Then drive nails through his extremities, for that extra Martha Stewart touch that makes every day a little more worthwhile. At the very least, the ropes will hold the man in place while the nails are being driven, since I don't expect anyone but the son of God trying to make a point (no pun intended) to calmly relax during the process. The nails, therefore, aren't meant to hold the man's weight, but to inflict suffering that can last for days. Once the ropes are in place, the Centurian can choose wrist or palm as it suits him.

I became an atheist a long time ago, but it wasn't over piddling nitpicky crap like this.

HairyPotter
06-29-2002, 02:20 AM
Nails provide far more drama.

TheeGrumpy
06-29-2002, 02:56 AM
More to the point, why do Christians believe that Jesus was nailed to the Cross?

Mark 15:25 "It was the third hour when they crucified him" but it doesn't say how;
Matthew 27:35 "When they had crucified him..." again, nothing of how;
Luke 23:33 "When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals..." who, oddly enough, typically are portrayed as having ropes rather than nails;
John 19:18 "Here they crucified him, and with him two others..." same deal.

Luke 24:39-40 has Jesus say during his post-Resurrection appearance: "'Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.' When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet." No reference to any wounds on the hands & feet, simply that he has feet unlike a ghost.
It is only in John 20:25 where we hear Thomas say "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (The word helos, "nails," is used only in this verse.)

The Gospels do make a specific reference to the stabbing in Jesus' side, but there is no similar reference in the narrative to nails.

C K Dexter Haven
06-29-2002, 08:37 AM
<< When the Romans nailed people to a cross, the nails had to go through the wrist, not the hand. The hand cannot support the weight of the body in this manner and the body will not stay up. >>

It's amazing how little we know, even from a reasonable well-documented era like the early Roman Empire. There is considerable debate as to whether the nails need to go through the wrist or hand; most experiments were done with dismembered limbs (there are very few live volunteers for experiments with being nailed to some beams) and although the evidence seems to favor the argument of nail-through-the-wrist, there is lots of medical evidence that implies that was not necessarily the case.

There is also considerable disagreement about the position, as it is fairly widely believed that most people who were crucified were hung upside down (feet up), but that obviously would have made for terrible iconography in the early church.

Dr. Lao
06-29-2002, 11:32 AM
I understand that the bodies of victims of crucifixion have been found with wrist wounds. I could be mistaken though.

Loopus
06-29-2002, 11:42 AM
Cecil tackled the issue of whether the nails went through the wrist or the palm in his update of What's the deal with stigmata? (http://www.straightdope.com/classics/a5_237.html)

AskNott
06-29-2002, 12:03 PM
Why not rope? Well, it's obvious! The officer in charge would have had to say, "Knot the King of the Jews," or "Knot the Messiah," Jesus would have gone into a series of, "Am too!" replies. To save time they nailed Him.

nahtanoj
06-29-2002, 12:03 PM
Centurian: Next!
[man shuffles to the front of the line]
Centurian: Savior or common criminal?
Man: Criminal.
Centurian: Right then. [calls to crucifiers] Rope! Next!
[another man shuffles up]
Centurian: Savior or common criminal?
Man: Criminal.
Centurian: Rope! Next!
[Jesus walks up]
Centurian: Savior or common criminal?
Jesus: Savior.
Centurian: Ah! Good day to you then. We just got a shipment of the new Mark II nails. I'm sure you'll enjoy them. [to crucifiers] Nails!
Jesus: Thank you, I'm sure I will.
Centurian: Nice day for it then, yes?
Jesus: Quite. [lies down on crucifix]
Centurian: Anesthetic before we nail you?
Jesus: No, but thanks for the offer. Wouldn't quite be so symbolic would it?
Centurian: [chuckles] You're the expert here.
Jesus: Here, now! You're supposed to put the nails through my hands and feet. Why are you doing the wrists and ankles instead?
Centurian: Well, we had some problems with other Saviors falling off their crusifixes because the hands and feet couldn't support the weight. Ankles and wrists are much better.
Jesus: But the symbolism! Everything's already written! What am I supposed to do?
Centruian: [ponders, then brightens] I've got it! We'll do it both ways! That way you don't fall off and you get you want for your religious texts!
Jesus: Brilliant! Let's do it then!

nahtanoj

Squish
06-29-2002, 01:57 PM
Crucifiction was the common punishment for traitors; when Spartacus' revolt was crushed, the crucified bodies of the traitors lined the road to Rome.

In a Roman-occupied territory, any one claiming to be King of that territory would be considered a traitor and therefore crucified.

Mahaloth
06-29-2002, 02:39 PM
Originally posted by Dr. Lao
Interestingly, this was almost assuredly not the case. When the Romans nailed people to a cross, the nails had to go through the wrist, not the hand. The hand cannot support the weight of the body in this manner and the body will not stay up.

Except that in those days, they thought of the hand as being all the way to the elbow.

Please don't critique if you don't have the info.

gazpacho
06-29-2002, 03:39 PM
Why do people keep saying that you wont be held up if the nails go into the hands? Have good studies been done?

Dr. Lao
06-29-2002, 03:51 PM
Originally posted by Mahaloth


Except that in those days, they thought of the hand as being all the way to the elbow. Are you serious or are you being sarcastic?

gazpacho: Cecil mentions it in update to the column Loopus linked to.

Mahaloth
06-29-2002, 04:28 PM
Originally posted by Dr. Lao
Are you serious or are you being sarcastic?

gazpacho: Cecil mentions it in update to the column Loopus linked to.

Serious.

3waygeek
06-29-2002, 05:17 PM
Well, had they used rope, they would have had to change the inscription on the cross. :D

Sparc
06-29-2002, 06:33 PM
To add another tidbit to the mix.

We know from the last 150 years of documenting gunshot wounds and other severe trauma to the hand that driving a large spike through the palm or the wrist will severe or at least traumatize the median nerve. This leads to an acute and very severe form of neuralgia that manifests itself as an excruciating burning sensation radiating out from the hand towards the elbow. Some patients have said to feel the pain all the way up to the shoulder. A similar syndrome may be produced by inflicting trauma on the nerve bundle that passes through the arch of the foot. In some cases victims of such injury have been reported to experience far more pain from the nerve damage than the wound to flesh and bone.

It is of course pure speculation like anything else regarding the Roman traditions of crucifixion, but it’s not a farfetched idea that those glaive-toting campers knew this and were quite delighted to add that little extra spice to the suffering of their victim. Given the sheer numbers they hung up on beams I’d be surprised if they didn’t learn one or two things about the process in the process. If you want to be nice to them you could lump it in with the leg breaking stuff, since it probably shortened the endurance of the crucified and thereby speeded up asphyxia. In all cases I’d say that there’s a fair many better ways to pass a Friday afternoon. Golf anyone?

Here is an article (http://www.rsdinfo.com/rsdinfo3.0/art_3.htm) describing early research into gunshot wounds by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell (1829-1914) during the American Civil War (the faint of heart might want to abstain).

Here is an article (http://www.emedicine.com/med/topic2908.htm) that describes nerve trauma in a semi understandable way out of a more modern pathological viewpoint.

Sparc

WV_Woman
06-29-2002, 11:20 PM
Jesus was indeed *not* a forgettable criminal. If he had been, they wouldn't have taken such great pains to make sure his body wasn't moved. (Namely rolling a big huge stone in front of his grave and posting two guards on either side.)

Crucifixion was entertainment and was used for the "lowest" criminals. In that day it was illegal to crucify a Roman citizen, regardless of the crime, because they considered all Roman citizens to deserve better than that.

Sparc
06-30-2002, 03:36 AM
WV_Woman it is your blessed right to take the Bible literally, but this does not make it a good cite for historical proof since it is, if nothing else biased.

The New Testament sort of hinges on the fact that Mr. Josefson was everything but a forgettable criminal. And I think it would be fair to say that history has made sure that he was indeed not forgettable.

However, I think the issue here is not how much the Christians and Muslims who happen to follow him in retrospect care, but how much the Romans actually cared about Jesus. What stands out as remarkable is the lack of records referring to the man. Given that the Romans were quite notorious in their bureaucracy it is astonishing that he did not pass into the major annals of the time if it is to be believed that the Romans feared him as much as the Bible implies. On the other hand there is nothing that doesn't say that the guards allegedly placed at his tomb weren't there. It might be enough with a dozen or so rowdy mourners for a hastatus, princeps or pilus to dispatch two of his men to stand guard at the tomb of a newly executed 'criminal'.

As for the stone this was fairly common practice in the region at the time.

Thereby nothing said nor implied about his holiness nor the accuracy of the bible. That one I leave up to each and everyone or for a more lengthy debate carried by others that have the energy.

As re crucifixion and Roman citizens you are mistaken. Crucifixion was generally reserved for the most base and loathsome and indeed considered a punishment worthy only for slaves and lowly criminals. There were however cases when the punishment was used on Romans and Roman law permitted this.

It is such a vile and painful way to kill someone that the debate on if it should even be allowed on the worst of the worst (in Roman view) raged more or less through the Roman period. It was the Roman equivalent of the death penalty debate in a way. Virgil amongst others made himself known as a pesky liberal anti-crucifixion advocate.

Sparc

C K Dexter Haven
06-30-2002, 07:49 AM
<< Given that the Romans were quite notorious in their bureaucracy it is astonishing that he did not pass into the major annals of the time if it is to be believed that the Romans feared him as much as the Bible implies. >>

Well, actually, it's not astonishing at all. As explained in the Staff Report on "Who killed Jesus?" (http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mjesuskill.html), very few records have survived. Although the Romans kept detailed records, we don't have many of them. Any records kept in Jerusalem were destroyed when the Romans destroyed the city in 70 AD; any records kept in Rome have long since disintegrated.

So we cannot draw any inferences from the absence of records.

Captain Amazing
06-30-2002, 07:57 AM
Originally posted by Sparc

As re crucifixion and Roman citizens you are mistaken. Crucifixion was generally reserved for the most base and loathsome and indeed considered a punishment worthy only for slaves and lowly criminals. There were however cases when the punishment was used on Romans and Roman law permitted this.

Really? What circumstances? I had also thought it was restricted to non-Romans.

Sparc
06-30-2002, 09:04 AM
C K Dexter Haven
So we cannot draw any inferences from the absence of records You’re right C K, but do note that I say annals, I am fully aware of the fate of the Jerusalem records as well as the archives in Rome. As you note in your Staff report the mention of him in the annals around and after his time are all more or less ambiguous and vague.

I’ll rephrase; given how little we see of him in the surviving Roman commentary of the time, it is hard to discern what importance the Romans attached to him, but there is little evidence to support that his importance was such that he was considered a major character of his time.
Captain Amazing
Really? What circumstances? I had also thought it was restricted to non-Romans.
High treason by Roman officials for instance. There was no real restriction against crucifixion of Romans in the penal code, but it was viewed as such as vile form of punishment that it was used very rarely on Roman citizenry.

Cicero, another anti-crucifixion advocate notes;
To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to kill him is almost an act of murder; but to crucify him is what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed . . .
The misconception that it was illegal to crucify Romans probably stems from well known rhetoric like Cicero’s and that Paul was beheaded rather than crucified due to his citizenship. In fact it was not his citizenship alone that did it, but that the ‘crime’ didn’t warrant the punishment for a Roman in the Roman judicial tradition.

Read Martin Hengel, “Crucifixion in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross.” Chapter 6 deals with crucifixion and Roman citizenry.

Sparc

Cardinal
06-30-2002, 05:55 PM
Why do people keep saying that you wont be held up if the nails go into the hands? Have good studies been done?
I don't have a cite, but IIRC, YES (ick). They used cadavers. I thought I read this in a Cecil column.

What's really ironic is that I have a book called The Case for Christ, which makes exactly this point about the palm being useless for this.

What's on the cover? A faint picture of a hand with a nail print in the palm.

Stupid publishers.

Spoke
06-30-2002, 11:00 PM
ThreeGrumpy wrote:More to the point, why do Christians believe that Jesus was nailed to the Cross?

Well, I'm no Christian, but I can field that one. The Bible specifically refers to the nail wounds in Jesus's hands in the context of the story of "doubting Thomas."

Jesus has arisen from the grave and appears to some of his followers. Thomas remains skeptical, saying that he will not believe it "unless I see the nail marks in his hands."

Jesus later obliges by letting Thomas touch the wounds.

The whole story appears in John chapter 20 (http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible?passage=JOHN%2B20&showfn=on&showxref=on&language=english&version=NIV&x=14&y=7). (Scroll down to verse 24.)

Milton De La Warre
07-01-2002, 07:44 AM
http://www.uncc.edu/jdtabor/crucifixion.html
Uses the same evidence as Jimminy's post to come to a totally different conclusion about how this Johannon was crucified.

Sparc: FWIW, thought I was not crucified, I did once drill a 5/16 bit into my left hand most of the way through. (Stupid accident.) It feels just as you describe. If I knew someone were going to do somrthing like that to me on purpose, they'd have to tie my arm down first. And BTW, it also makes one's hand swell up like an inflated rubber glove: something for those who did corpse studies to think about.

IMHO, it's best to consider that crucifixion was a nasty business and that it was not done in accordance with some Roman Army Field Manual. It was done with the object of displaying and somewhat slowly killing the victim in mind. Thus, when looking to see how Jesus might have been done in, it seems best to consider all the ways that it is physically possible to accomplish the goal and only then look to literary sources to see how it might have been done in this one case.

Also, I do believe Herodotus (misspelled, but I rush) has the first description in western literature of this punsihment. It's at the very end of his book, when he discusses a guy being "nailed to a plank" by the Persians and having his son stoned to death before him.

I reckon this punishment originated somewhere in the east and them migrated to the Phonecians and then to the Carthiginians (Phonecian colony), and from then to the Romans. I am pretty sure it was not used in pre-Roman Greece.

Milton De La Warre
07-01-2002, 12:18 PM
Which brings me to ask:
Let's say they dion't nail a guy up, but rope him to a cross instead. What does he die of? Exposure? Boredom? That seems rather humane compared with other somewhat common Roman punishments like the Tunica Molesta (being tied to a post wearing a sort of tunic covered with flammable material that is then ignited), or being thrown to the beasts in the arena, etc.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Josephus mentions that several people he knew were crucified and that an appeal by him to someone (Titus?) got them removed while they still lived. Only one recovered. To me, this suggests something more physically traumatic than being tied to a cross for a while.

Chronos
07-01-2002, 01:32 PM
What does he die of? Exposure? Boredom?Basically, when being crucified, you need to exert yourself (lifting your body with your legs) to breath. Eventually, exposure, hunger, and dehydration will weaken you to the point that this is no longer possible, and you die. In the ordinary course of affairs, this might take as much as a few days, so if you wanted someone to die more quickly (as we're told was the case with Jesus, due to the Jews not wanting bodies up on the Sabbath) you would break his legs so he couldn't lift himself.

Quoth C K Dexter Haven:There is also considerable disagreement about the position, as it is fairly widely believed that most people who were crucified were hung upside down (feet up), but that obviously would have made for terrible iconography in the early church.What, then (if anything), was remarkable about Peter's crucifiction? Allegedly, he said that it would be too great an honor to die in the same manner as Jesus, so he requested of the Romans executing him that he be hung on the cross upside-down instead. As for the iconography, an inverted cross is, in fact, used as a symbol of Peter, although not as commonly (primarily because Jesus and his symbols are slightly more important).

grimpixie
07-02-2002, 03:33 AM
Originally posted by TheeGrumpy
It is only in John 20:25 where we hear Thomas say "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." (The word helos, "nails," is used only in this verse.)

The Gospels do make a specific reference to the stabbing in Jesus' side, but there is no similar reference in the narrative to nails.
To be fair - it is also only in John's gospel that the spear in the side is mentioned.
John 19
33But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. I have often wondered why this is - it is common knowledge that each of the Gospel writers had his own agenda and emphasised different aspects of Jesus' life, but these are details that I would have expected more to have been made of...

Grim