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The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ

by Merrill C. Oaks

Crucifixion was the form of execution suffered by Jesus Christ on Calvary as the necessary conclusion to his voluntary infinite atoning sacrifice begun in Gethsemane (see Atonement). Many people supported and followed Jesus, but a small group of influential Judaean leaders, who disagreed with his doctrines and felt threatened by his popularity, succeeded in having the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, condemn him to death.

LDS scriptures give prophetic witness that crucifixion would be the method of the Savior's death (e.g., 1 Ne. 19:10-13; 2 Ne. 10:3-5; Mosiah 3:9; 15:7; Moses 7:55). Israelites did not crucify. They did hang executed bodies ignominiously "on a tree" for part of a day (Deut. 21:22-23; cf. Acts 5:30), but for crucifixion it was necessary to invoke Roman law and practice.

Crucifixion was a form of execution probably begun by the Persians and used in Egypt and Carthage. The Romans perfected it as a torture designed to produce maximum pain and a slow death. Reserved for the vilest of criminals and rarely administered to Roman citizens, crucifixion was customarily preceded by flogging the back, buttocks, and legs with a short whip consisting of leather thongs with small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bone attached. The weakened victim was then made to carry at least a portion of the cross to the site of crucifixion. Romans commonly used large nails to fix the wrists and palms to the cross bar and the feet to the vertical portion of the cross. The nails inflicted terrible pain but caused no immediate life-threatening injury. A person could live in agony for hours or even days. The body's position made breathing difficult since hanging by the arms kept the chest expanded so that exhaling required the active use of the diaphragm. If the sufferer pushed with his feet, he elevated his body, placing the chest in a more natural position and making it easier to breathe. Soldiers sometimes hastened death by breaking the legs of the victim, making it almost impossible to push the body high enough to breathe.

After Jesus had hung on the cross for several hours, he forgave the soldiers who had crucified him (Luke 23:34; JST Luke 23:35) and voluntarily gave up his life (cf. John 10:18), commending his spirit into his Father's hands. The Romans broke the legs of the two who were crucified with Jesus, but believing that he was already dead, they merely thrust a spear into his side (John 19:33-34).

(See The Ancient Practice of Crucifixion by Dr. Richard Lloyd Anderson; The Cross; Basic Beliefs home page; Teachings About Jesus Christ home page; The Atonement of Jesus Christ home page)

Bibliography

Edwards, William D.; Wesley J. Gabel; and Floyd E. Hosmer. "On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ." Journal of the American Medical Association, 255 (1986):1455-63.

Hengel, Martin. Crucifixion. Philadelphia, 1977.

Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 2, Jesus Christ, His Crucifixion

Copyright 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company

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