Sunday, 11 April 2010

Five Resurrection Facts - Jesus died by Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate

As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15 (12-19) if Jesus didn't rise from the dead our trust is useless and we should be pitied more than any people. So without getting into the deep theological meaning behind the resurrection and its clear importance I'm going to spend five posts examining five pieces of historical data. Many people feel Jesus resurrection from the dead best explains the historical evidence over alternative explanations.

These five facts are described by Habermas & Licona as historically factual and can be backed up with evidence and granted by the vast majority of scholars on the subject, this includes many of the most sceptical who may disagree with the conclusions.

The First Fact

Jesus Died by Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate -

So this is to say that Jesus existed and was killed under Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea from AD 26-36. This puts Jesus clearly within a historical context that clearly separates him from other savour myths. For some years even Pontius Pilates existence was seen as suspect by some radical scholars because we had only the New Testament writings, one mention by Tacitus and two writings by the Jewish historian Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. Although this is more than many figures of ancient history, if Pilates existence couldn't be sure of then some hyper-sceptical scholars could have legitimate reason to doubt Jesus historicity. However over the years there have been some amazing archaeological discoveries that clearly put Pontius Pilates historical existence way beyond reasonable doubt. Pilate is clearly an important figure since he was the person who handed over Jesus for crucifixion.

The Pilate Stone

It was discovered in the summer of 1961 in Israel and is kept in the Israel museum in Jerusalem, it can be examined in more depth here This inscription has helped to prove to sceptics once again that the New Testament writers weren't in the habit of including people who never existed in their accounts!

The Historical Evidence

Many people seem to think that when we talk about Jesus we have only the gospels to rely on, and although there is an array of evidence to support them as valuable and accurate historical documents I will look at some of the evidence outside of the gospels (I have addressed the secular sources for Jesus crucifixion in more detail in previous posts, see here.

The above link examines sources such as Tacitus, Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosata which were all written prior to AD 160 and mention Jesus' crucifixion. However some people may claim that this isn't very much information for someone so important however we are talking about something that happened almost two thousand years ago, and since we have only a minute fraction of the historical books written from that time, what we do have is actually rather substantial especially in reference to the crucifixion. So far we have seen that clearly Jesus was a historical figure who was condemned to death upon the cross but what exactly was so bad about crucifixion?

Couldn't Jesus have survived the crucifixion?

In the first century BC, Cicero calls crucifixion the most horrendous torture and Tacitus refers to it as "the extreme penalty." The theory that Jesus wasn't killed when he was crucified and was perhaps instead just hurt and in a coma is known as the Swoon theory. For many this seems like a reasonable solution but I will make a few points that will show that this is clearly a false conclusion.

1 - Even the preparation for crucifixion was enough to kill many and show us that Jesus would have been in a terrible state before he even made it to the cross. Jesus was flogged with a lead tipped whip and slapped in John 19:1-3. The whips often had jagged pieces of bone and lead woven into it. So before even getting to the cross Jesus would have undergone a minimum of 39 hits with the whip which was often enough to expose the victims veins and organs. Struck with a reed-stick, spit on, blindfolded and beat with fists in Mark 14:65, 15:19, I can imagine that the Roman soldiers knew how to punch properly as-well . A thorn crown was put on his head and beaten Matthew 27:29, the thorns found in Israel are often 3 inches or longer.

2 - So following on from what was just the preparation for crucifixion Jesus would have had nails (Roman nails were five to seven inches long.) put through his wrists and feet. Not only would this be extraordinary painful it would have made it extremely difficult to breath. This is because once on the cross the victim would be in a position where to breath he would have to take all the pressure on his arms to inhale, this would usually lead to a very slow and painful death that could often take days. The pain was so unbearable that a new word had to be created 'excruciating' (literally out of the cross) to describe the torment people would have gone through during this terrible means of execution. Recent medical research on the cause of death during crucifixion does however vary depending on the exact methods used and the individual themselves, it has been suggested that some would have died of shock or pulmonary embolism etc.

3 - Jesus' legs weren't broken by the Roman soldiers, this is for two reasons. It was often seen as a merciful act to put someone out of their misery due to the pain they were going through. This wasn't seen as necessary by the soldiers since Jesus appeared to die quite quickly following his horrendous preparation. It was also used as a means of speeding things up since once a victims legs were broken they could no longer lift themselves up to breath, and would then die of asphyxiation. So what we can see is that Jesus was quite clearly dead and since these soldiers had overseen many deaths who better to make such a decision.

4 - But anyway like good Roman soldiers just to make sure of the job they thrust their spear through Jesus' side (John 19:34-35) this mix of blood and water is described by medical experts as being due to to the rupturing of the the pericardium which is the sac that surrounds the heart. This puncturing would have lead to a small amount of clear fluid followed by a large amount of blood just as John describes in his gospel account.

5 - It is clearly preposterous to think that Jesus after being punched, flogged, crucified and stabbed in the side would have managed to convince anyone three days later that he was the risen messiah. To think otherwise is clearly a view that doesn't take into account the facts surrounding the crucifixion process and the resurrection appearances. In fact the disciples probably would have felt pity for him and tried to nurse him back to health and not change from crybabies to bold preachers of the resurrection.

Accounts that Mention Jesus within 150 years of his Crucifixion

NT Authors
- Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude.

Early Christian Writers outside the NT
- Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martydom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter and Epistula Apostolorum.

Secular/ Non-Christian Sources - Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Lucian of Samosata, Celsus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Suetonius and Thallus

So considering we have only a fraction of the writings from the period what we have is as you can see clearly a substantial wealth of information from which we can draw our conclusions.

So in conclusion we have Jesus within a clear historical context which can place his crucifixion within Pontius Pilates time in government, we have have at least four secular sources that record Jesus crucifixion as-well as over 35 more sources that record him as a historical figure. We can also see that from the nature of crucifixion that Jesus was clearly no longer alive, and there's certainly no way a half dead, bleeding Jesus would have persuaded anyone that he was the savour of the world who had conquered death!

Let me know your thoughts.


  1. Sorry I wasted my time with this stupid article. Kill my son so people can be saved. I can save them anyway, I'm God remember? So why be a nut job and torture my son. I saved them before my son and I could save them after my son. Just is too stupid to consider. People just don't use their common sense when it comes to religions. I'm voting for Zeus.

  2. Hey thanks for stopping by.

    Unfortunately you have only really offered an argument from outrage rather than dealing with any of the facts that I have written about in the article.

    I think its rather more rational to trust the historical Jesus over the meat and molecules of Atheism that offer nothing and explain even less.

    You carry on with Zeus, Mithras and Horus if you like. All that shows me is that Atheists take the 'schoraly' work of internet Atheists more seriously than the work of real Scholars who know that these 19th century ideas should go back to the intellectual dump where they were left before.

    Take care,


  3. I did enjoy the essay. Thanks for the spefic citations -- would help if rather than only listing the writers, give the source citations. Would help in searching the references. That does not, at all, detract from the facts given.

  4. Interesting but its clear you know very little about actual crucifictions and even less about the actual writings of people such as Josephus and Tacitus etc. You are depending your info based on christian editing of the original texts and the bible for the account of the crucifiction. In fact, Romans invented crucifiction and knew what they were doing, while nails were used, it was not a common practice (which accounts for so few ever being found) and floggings were generally limited to the legs, which forced the bound (not staked) to alternate from pain or asphyxiation. This slow death would last for 2-3 days. You also ignore that Josephus states he witnessed someone surviving crucifiction. The bible actually provides more proof that he survived the crucifiction than died after a few hours. And lastly, Roman soldiers were not experts on death by any means. Neither were medical professionals of the day. It was normal practice for people to visit the dead after three days to make sure they were actually dead. Some visited daily, some didn't. Romans would even delay cremations to make sure they were burning a dead body. If you wish to provide proof, please provide actual facts.

  5. Hey Dore,

    thanks for stopping by and don't worry no-one gets banned here for posting comments on posts unless their rude or bullying. But you must understand its gonna take me a while to respond to all your posts :P, I'm all for dialogue but I do get annoyed if people post loads of comments and then don't respond so hopefully you will pop back again :)

    Interesting but its clear you know very little about actual crucifictions and even less about the actual writings of people such as Josephus and Tacitus etc.

    I'm gonna assume the misspelling of 'crucifixion' is meant to be ironic. After reading your comment I can't help but think it may be you who knows very little about the nature and history of crucifixion.

    You are depending your info based on christian editing of the original texts and the bible for the account of the crucifiction. In fact, Romans invented crucifiction and knew what they were doing, while nails were used, it was not a common practice (which accounts for so few ever being found) and floggings were generally limited to the legs, which forced the bound (not staked) to alternate from pain or asphyxiation.

    Well that's for another comment you've made on another post but yes I do think the crucifixion accounts as recorded in the gospels are trustworthy accounts but that's for another day.

    The Romans invented crucifixion, really now?

    Most ancient historians would actually agree that it began with the Persians [Herodotus 1.128.2, 3.125.3, 3132.2, 3.159.1, Darius has three thousand inhabitants of Babylon crucified; 4.43.2,7;6.30.1; 7.194.1]. In fact it was used as a means of execution by many other people groups including the Assyrians, the Scythians, Greeks, and the Taurians. There even accounts of crucifixions amongst the ancient Celts who would crucify criminals in this way as a sacrifice to the gods [Diodorus Siculus 5.32.6 - And they are monstrously impious in their sacrifices; for they crucify evildoers for their gods.]

    In fact it was the Romans who learnt it from those they conquered on their many years of travels!

    The reason we don't find too many victims is for many reasons, one major one is that there was such variation in the way people were crucified whether it was done dead or alive, staked, tied, flogged, beaten, position etc. It was up to the executioners how far they went and how many were being crucified at one time. Seneca says it better than I can:

    'I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts; others stretch out their arms on the gibbet.' (Seneca, Dialogue 'To Marcia on Consolation', 6.20.3)

    The gospel accounts give us the clearest ancient account of what a person could possibly go through during a crucifixion although this is not to say that this is how it was done for everyone else. We can see there evidence of victims how went through something similar to Jesus in the remains of Johanan ben Ha-galgol whos remains were discovered in 1968. So you accusation that victims weren't staked is not the whole story!

  6. This slow death would last for 2-3 days. You also ignore that Josephus states he witnessed someone surviving crucifiction.

    This is on par with arguing that someone surviving getting shot is evidence against someone dieing from being shot.

    The case your referring to regarding Josephus' account of someone surviving crucifixion was actually regarding three people being taken down from the cross. Two of which died even with the help of the best medical care of the time and the other survived, however his account gives no details to the type of crucifixion that was carried out. We have established that the means of which differed greatly so this doesn't really satisfy as an argument against Jesus surviving the crucifixion especially taking into account the means in which he was crucified!

    So no I haven't ignored what Josephus has written you just assumed that rather presumptuously, as I was quite aware of this case.

    There are numerous reasons that point to Jesus was dead, the type of crucifixion Jesus went through followed by being stabbed in the heart etc. I would love to hear how you think a crucified beaten, bloodied, bruised heap of a man was going to persuade anyone that he was the saviour of the world and had overcome death? You also fail to take into account the sociological implications of a movement that based itself on a crucified man/God in the ancient world and actually succeeding!

    You asked be to provide facts and not just assertions, perhaps we both have something to learn.

    You said you used to be a Christian and it sounded like you have had some bad experiences with 'christians' have I but judging Christianity by people who don't follow what Jesus taught isn't a good way of discerning truth. I've learnt that people will always let us down but Jesus never will!

    As I said earlier I really won't have time to respond to all your comments as I'm just too busy but perhaps we can continue to discuss further on a couple of posts.

    take care and God-bless,


  7. Thanks much for a great source for my Sunday School class (high school)!

  8. Very interesting.

    But you lost a bit of credibility as a good writer when you used the word "outrage" in reference to the first peron's comments on this article. I reread the comment and though it clearly is written in a tone of disagreement to your beliefs, I could find no outrage.


  9. Anedoctal evidence does not prove Supernatural. That's that.

  10. You have to remember that many writings at the time including fictions also included real people and events. You have to also factor in that it is almost certain that the resurrection events in Mark were added at a later time and its almost certain that many parts of Mark were copied by Matthew and Luke. It was very common for stories to become plagiarized and extended upon during this era also. In fact copies of Mark have been found without the resurrection with outdate the ones that do. I believe Jesus was a real person unfortunately his story has more in likely been exemplified and distorted. Where the Gospels at one time may have been true, today they are probably nothing more them works of non-fiction that were inspired by historical event, much like Hollywood.

    1. Actually your incorrect. You have to stop looking at things blinded. You claim these sources "outdate" the ones that do...your sources are the ones that were rewritten. People like constantine would change the writings as they saw fit and try to pass it off to distort the truth. So put in a more simple understanding.....I write down something that happened, and there's copies of it. Years later someone reads what I wrote, decided to change my writings, and then copy all those and pass them off as me my original accounts of what happened. The original copies I wrote become outlawed and go into hiding, then years upon years later my copies resurface and are COPIED. Now which document is more correct, the newest copy of my document or the original documents of the guy who changed what I wrote? Just because something's older doesnt mean anything.

    2. I'm not sure what scholarly sources you have or could use to claim that Constantine changed any of the NT manuscripts. We have a vast number of NT manuscripts as-well as quotes from the NT in the Church fathers that predate Constantine. Therefore, your claim is simply false. You may not believe what the NT says, but claims that Constantine changed anything cannot be demonstrated.

      Your claim that something doesn't mean anything is an overstatement. Older data may not necessarily be more accurate than newer data but historically it is at the least of more interest for historians. Now we have a number of NT manuscripts both partial and full that predate Constantine so historically it is not possible for him to change anything. Even claims of Jesus deity are found in a number of non-Christian sources, NT documents as-well as the pre-Nicene church fathers and apologists [Justin Martyr etc].

      Happy to chat more, thanks for stopping by.


Please feel free to ask anything related to anything posted here and time permitting I will get back to you asap. Thanks. D J Rodger