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The Crucifixion Demystified

September 03, 2002
By Corey Gilkes

In [The Egyptian Great year and Christianity and Easter: origins in a Pagan Christ] the allegorical aspect of the death and resurrection of Jesus was explored to demystify an age-old symbolic myth. As I have shown in the previous essays, there is no question that the events described in the Gospels are not historical. In this essay we will do the same thing by looking at the story of the crucifixion from an historical perspective in order to show that what was written in the canonical texts could not have happened in that fashion if indeed they were historical. As always, the intention is not necessarily to denigrate or make a mockery of Xianity. The intention is to go behind the complex web of events that led to a religion being created and used as a powerful tool by which the political aspirations of certain groups were realised.

To most devout Xians, there is no questioning the death of Jesus or the way in which he was put to death - one does not question or worse still challenge articles of faith. To those who have studied Roman and Jewish history, however, the biblical narratives about the crucifixion and the sequence of events that led up to it aroused much suspicion.

It is important that one examines closely extra-biblical sources regarding Palestine and Rome of biblical times in order to make sense of what took place and ultimately understand what really led to the development of Xianity as we have come to know it. It cannot be said too often that the Gospels are not reliable as historical documents. They are riddled with inconsistencies, forgeries and historical inaccuracies and are not even eyewitness accounts. The events are not completely mythical, however - in fact they are loosely constructed around historical events. Nevertheless, considerable suspicion should be raised because of the virtual absence of references to the political turmoil and intense revolutionary activities that were taking place around the time Christ Jesus allegedly existed as well as during the period in which the Gospels were composed [between 70-200 CE]. The Palestine of this period was a hotbed of revolutionary activity as Hebrews, labouring under Roman domination attempted to throw off the yoke of Roman colonisation. To counter the threats the Romans resorted to cruel repressive measures, murder, and public executions including crucifixion. Indeed, historical accounts show that rather than just one significant event, there were hundreds of crucifixions every week. This of course is noticeably absent from the New Testament which has a very noticeable accomodationist, pro-Roman tone.

The reader must always keep in mind that when the Gospels were being written - much of which was during and after the Jewish revolt of 68-74 CE - the Hebrews had effectively ceased to exist as an organised social, political and military entity. The four canonical Gospels [as opposed to the other Jewish and Essene texts that were hidden or suppressed] were written and edited with the intention of shifting attention and blame from the colonising Romans to the Hebrews. All references to Roman atrocities had to be played down, glossed over and their weekly crucifixions of hundreds of revolutionaries had to be presented as sympathetically as possible.

According to the gospels, Jesus is initially condemned by the Sanhedrin who then bring him before Pilate and request that he pronounce against Jesus. Historically this makes no sense at all. In the three Synoptic Gospels [Mark, Matthew and Luke] Jesus is arrested and condemned on the night of the Passover, but by Judaic law the Sanhedrin was forbidden to meet over the Passover. Neither were they permitted to convene at night, in private houses or anywhere outside the precincts of the Temple. The Gospels give the impression that by hauling Jesus before Pilate, they were not authorised to pass death sentences. In fact, they were so empowered - by stoning, not crucifixion, in the case of blasphemy - with no need to go before Pilate at all. The very accounts of Jesus' arrest and execution gives some indications about the revolutionary - rather than the benign, spiritual character blissfully aloof from the events around him - person to whom the Jewish people pegged their hopes for deliverance from Roman domination. One of the first clues are the number of soldiers sent to arrest him; most bibles give no clear indication as to the exact number of soldiers sent to arrest Jesus in the garden. The popular image conjured up in the minds of most people are between ten and thirty soldiers along with a couple representatives of the High Priest. However, in older Catholic bibles, such as the Vulgate, the word cohort is used. In the Roman army a cohort was one tenth of a legion - six hundred regular soldiers. If, however, they were auxiliaries, as in the case of Palestine, the number could be as many as five hundred to two thousand troops.


Why would so many soldiers be employed to arrest one spiritual person with a party of twelve? Perhaps the answer lies in the company this "gentle" prophet kept. Simon Peter, for one was obviously named because of his strength and burly size. In fact the names "Simon" and "Peter" both mean "rocklike", which suggested that this was a rather tough character. He certainly displayed his violent streak by cutting off the ear of one of the High Priest representatives. Then at least two individuals in his immediate entourage belonged to a group of Jews who were fanatical even by today's standards - the Zealots. This group of fanatical assassins enforced discipline and rigid adherence to the Law - in fact their name stems from Josephus who wrote about these people who had a fanatical "zeal" for the Law. Now this then means that Jesus' admonition to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" was yet another fiction because the Zealots were the ones who ruthlessly dealt with anyone who was suspected of betraying Jews to the Romans. By their names alone Simon Zelotes and Judas Iscariot [Sicarii - "dagger"] were unwittingly exposed by the Gospel writers as having belonged to this fanatical group of fundamentalists.

The Roman "custom" of freeing a condemned prisoner on the Passover is another biblical fable; no such custom existed. Additionally, the image of a weak Pilate reluctantly bowing to the pressure of a Jewish mob makes no sense either. The historical Pilate was a ruthless Procurator and in any event it would have been unthinkable for a Roman Procurator to show weakness to the conquered Jews. In the face of a Jewish mob on the verge of rioting, the real Pilate would have summoned the army to ruthlessly put down the disturbance at once. Also, the fact that the Jesus character was crucified shows that a Roman court tried him, for a Roman crime, and executed by an instrument reserved for the enemies of Rome - crucifixion was reserved for political crimes, such as treason. So someone who preached spiritual messages or claimed to be the messiah would hardly have been a candidate for crucifixion. Unless that messiah was planning revolutionary activities couched in religious terms.

Jesus is called the Messiah. Most Xians are unaware that this was just a temporal title given to every priestly king of the line of David. Additionally, as a legitimate claimant to the throne, Jesus would also be a very wealthy person; the tradition in Xianity that Jesus was of poor humble parentage stems largely from a misunderstanding of Mark's account and the view that Joseph, Jesus' earthly father was a simple 'carpenter'. In actuality a carpenter in that period would have been the equivalent of today's high priced architect. This skill was often passed on from one generation to another and was a very prestigious title. Thus Jesus would have had to have been a very wealthy person, with wealthy, influential friends: the kind of friends one needs when planning to overthrow or undermine the colonial Roman government.

Now the crucifixion itself as it is related in the gospels, is quite suspect and is wide open for very intense scrutiny. Given the historical fact that hundreds of crucifixions occurred on a weekly basis during the Roman occupation, they would obviously have had it down to a fine art. Therefore, had the one in the bible actually taken place, there was no reason why it should have been fatal.

The Roman practice of crucifixion adhered to very precise procedures. Upon being condemned the victim would be severely flogged until he bled. Then his outstretched arms would be fastened - often by thongs but sometimes with nails - to a heavy wooden beam placed horizontally across his neck and shoulders. Bearing this beam he would be led to the place of execution where he raised by the beam upon a vertical post. This put intense pressure upon the victim's chest and made it impossible for him to breathe unless his feet were fastened to the stake. Then he would be able to press down on them and gain some temporary respite. In this way a fit person - despite the agony - would be able to stave off death for at least a day or two. Victims have been known to survive for up to a week before succumbing to exhaustion or thirst, or if nails were used, blood poisoning. The breaking of the legs, such as what occurred in the biblical accounts, was actually a form of mercy - a way to avoid prolonging the person's agony for with nothing to support his weight, the person would quickly die by asphyxiation. Now according to the narrative, Jesus' legs were not broken, therefore - albeit in theory - he should have survived for at least two more days. Yet he dies on the cross after only a few hours. Even Pilate is surprised upon learning of his death [Mark 15:44].

So what caused his death? One may say that it was a combination of exhaustion, the trauma of scourging and general debilitation. But - barring the odd case when someone dies from a single relatively harmless blow - it is almost impossible to die so soon and very strange that he did. In fact, his death comes almost too conveniently, at just about the right time. It occurs just as soldiers are about to break his legs. And by so doing, it allows him to allegedly fulfill some Old Testament prophecy. Many religious scholars agree that Jesus modeled his life and movements to deliberately coincide with ancient Jewish writings that spoke about the coming of a Messiah and the tribulations he would undergo. Dr Hugh Schonfield, in particular, argues that virtually every aspect of Jesus life and "death" was staged-managed to conform to Old Testament writings. It was for this reason that a mule and an ass had to be acquired from Bethany on which he could mount and ride into Jerusalem. Likewise, the details of the Crucifixion seem to have carefully engineered to conform to the details of Old Testament "prophecy". Now note that he was not the only one who maintains that the crucifixion was a fraud: Basilides claimed that as well, that Simon of Cyrene and not Jesus was executed upon the cross. Another early Xian bishop, Papias, insisted, on the authority of what "the disciples of the Lord used to say in the old days", that Jesus lived to a ripe old age. Yet another, Irenaeus, who questioned "how is it possible that the Lord preached for one year only?", goes on to tell us in Against Heresies:

"..from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher...and he remained among them up to the time of Trajan [Roman Emperor 98-117 CE].

Then in one of the Nag Hammadi texts, the Second Treatise of Great Seth, relates Jesus saying:

"I did not succumb to them as they had planned….And I did not die but in reality but in appearance, lest I be put shame by them….For my death which they think happened [happened] to them in their error and blindness, since they nailed their man unto their death…it was another…..who drank the gall and the vinegar; it was not I. They struck me with reed; it was another, Simon, who bore the cross on his shoulder. It was another upon whom they placed the crown of thorns. But I was rejoicing in the height over…..their error….And I was laughing at their ignorance".

Further, as late as the 7th century we have the Qu'ran maintaining the same assertion.

Make of that what you will

Within the canonical texts certain clues may be found that shows that the biblical crucifixion was a less then transparent affair. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus, hanging on the cross, says that he thirsts and is given a sponge allegedly soaked in vinegar. Tradition has it that this act was an act of derision, but in actuality vinegar - or soured wine - was a temporary stimulant with effects similar to smelling salts. It was often used to resuscitate exhausted galley slaves. For an exhausted man, a sniff or taste of vinegar would induce a restorative, rejuvenating effect. Surprisingly, in Jesus' case the effect is exactly the opposite. As soon as he tastes or inhales the sponge he expires. This is physiologically inexplicable, if indeed it was vinegar. On the other hand if it were a sponge soaked in a soporific drug - a mixture of opium and/or belladonna, for instance, commonly used in Palestine at that time - unconsciousness would occur, giving the impression of sudden death. But why should this be done at all? If this conjecture is correct, it appears that we are witnessing a very complex and elaborate charade designed to produce a semblance of death when in fact the "victim" was still alive. Such a hoax would not only save Jesus' life but would have also realised the Old Testament prophecies of a coming Messiah.

It of course leads to follow that this could not have been accomplished without some collusion on the part of the Roman authorities in the area, particularly Pilate. Now by all accounts the historical Pilate was a cruel, bloodthirsty tyrant. He was also corrupt and would not have let slip a chance to make a tidy sum of money - and perhaps a guarantee of no further political agitation - in exchange for sparing Jesus' life. In the canonical texts he acknowledges that Jesus is the king of the Jews, he expresses, or pretends to express, surprise that Jesus' death occurs as quickly as it apparently does. Most significantly, he has Jesus' body handed over to Joseph of Arimathea. This runs counter to Roman law at the time, which denied a crucified man all burial. Guards were often posted to keep relatives or friends from removing the bodies. The victim would be left on the cross to decompose and be at the mercy of the elements and carrion birds. This strongly indicates complicity on the part of Pilate. It may also indicate something else as well. In the Greek version when Joseph asks for Jesus' body, he uses the word soma - a word that only applies to a living body, whereas Pilate, assenting to the request, uses the word ptoma - corpse.

There is little historical information about this Joseph of Arimathea. The Gospels have him as a secret disciple of Jesus, was very wealthy and belonged to the Jewish Council of Elders, the Sanhedrin. It would thus seem apparent that this Joseph was a very influential man: this may be confirmed by his dealings with Pilate as well as yet another of the many anomalies found in the New Testament.

According to the canonical Gospels Jesus is crucified at a place called Golgotha, 'the place of the skull'. Later tradition paints a picture of Golgotha as a barren, skull-shaped hill to the north-west of Jerusalem. Yet the Gospels themselves state that the site of the crucifixion is not atop the 'place of the skull'. In fact, John 19:41 explicitly states "Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid". Now popular tradition has it that he is executed in a public place with a very large crowd gathered around the cross. But the Gospels state that they saw the crucifixion from "afar off" [Luke 23:49], according to the Gospels then he is put to death, not in a public place, but on private property. Many religious scholars argue that the actual site was the Garden of Gethesemane. If indeed this garden belonged to one of Jesus' secret disciples, it would explain why Jesus, prior to the crucifixion had free access to the place. Needless to say an execution on private property leaves considerable room for a hoax. There would be only a few people immediately present and so to the general public standing at a distance, the trick would not be apparent, they would not know who was being crucified or if he was actually dead.

It is this writer's opinion that what we have is a story about a messiah, or several messiahs, since there were priest-king before and after the time Jesus was supposed to have existed, - at least one of them a legitimate claimant to the throne - living in a particularly turbulent hotbed of revolutionary activities, embarking on an attempt to regain his throne. He, being a devout Jew, adhered to the Law and the many rituals and mystery-rites practised by the priestly caste. Indeed going so far as to carefully his daily life along the lines of ancient, poetic Jewish prophecy. He attracts a large following of disciples from both the rich and poor. Indeed, some of his most devoted following belong to the affluent part of the Jewish community, one of whom is a member of the Sanhedrin. He is also part of a fraternity, a brotherhood and uses these connections to gather support for his claim to the throne. His enormous influence is viewed with suspicion and hostility by other influential Jews and the Roman authorities, who fear that he may be growing too powerful. One or both of these groups contrive to sabotage his bid for the throne but their attempt on his life is unsuccessful as he, utilising his influential friends, manage to bribe a corrupt Roman Procurator. A mock crucifixion is staged along a quasi-symbolic ritual that has the deceased rising from the dead. Again, in keeping with the mystery-rites, has the actual king changing places with a pretender. A form of role reversal that is still practised in related Carnival/Mardi Gras traditions today in Africa, Trinidad, Cuba, New Orleans and Brazil. At dusk, the "body" was moved to an opportunely adjacent tomb, from which the "body" was taken out, "miraculously" disappearing only to symbolically reappear in much the same way as the ancient dramas of the death and resurrection of avatars were enacted in the priestly rituals of Egypt and Persia.

Later this was taken, "historicised" and embellished by the early Fathers of the Church who were trying to gain acceptance by the Roman authorities while simultaneously advance their secular political aspirations. This, in turn led to a chain of events and historical accidents that has shaped the course of world history to this day. Later we will focus on some of the more glaring forgeries and pious frauds in and out of the bible that aided the Church Fathers and colonists to achieve their goals.


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