Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion

Crucifixion in Antiquity

What do we know about the history of crucifixion? In the following article, “New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Hershel Shanks looks at evidence of Roman crucifixion methods as analyzed from the remains found in Jerusalem of a young man crucified in the first century A.D. The remains included a heel bone pierced by a large nail, giving archaeologists, osteologists and anthropologists evidence of crucifixion in antiquity.

Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion

Crucifixion in antiquity was a gruesome execution, not really understood until a skeletal discovery in the 1980s that gave new insight into the history of crucifixion. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985)

What do these bones tell us about the history of crucifixion? The excavator of the crucified man, Vassilios Tzaferis, followed the analysis of Nico Haas of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem suggesting Roman crucifixion methods: a contorted position: arms nailed to the crossbeam; legs bent, twisted to one side, and held in place by a single nail that passed through a wooden plaque, through both left and right heel bones, and then into the upright of the cross.
However, when Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles reexamined the remains, looking for evidence of Roman crucifixion methods, they found no evidence that nails had penetrated the victim’s arms; moreover, the nail in the foot was not long enough to have penetrated the plaque, both feet, and the cross. And, indeed, what were previously thought to be fragments of two heel bones through which the nail passed were shown to be fragments of only one heel bone and a long bone. On the basis of this evidence, Zias and Sekeles suggest that the man’s legs straddled the cross and that his arms were tied to the crossbeam with ropes, signifying the method of crucifixion in antiquity.
Literary sources giving insight into the history of crucifixion indicate that Roman crucifixion methods had the condemned person carry to the execution site only the crossbar. Wood was scarce and the vertical pole was kept stationary and used repeatedly. Below, in “New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Hershel Shanks concludes that crucifixion in antiquity involved death by asphyxiation, not death by nail piercing.

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Scholars’ Corner: New Analysis of the Crucified Man

By Hershel Shanks

Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion

Drawing of the contorted crucifixion position proposed by Vassilios Tzaferis, based on the analysis of Nico Haas, which has since been challenged by Joseph Zias and Eliezer Sekeles. For full caption, see drawing from Israel Exploration Journal 35:1. Photo: Courtesy Israel Exploration Journal, Vol. 20, No. 1–2 (1970)

In our January/February 1985 issue, we published an article about the only remains of a crucified man to be recovered from antiquity (“Crucifixion—The Archaeological Evidence,BAR, January/February 1985). Vassilios Tzaferis, the author of the article and the excavator of the crucified man, based much of his analysis of the victim’s position on the cross and other aspects of the method of crucifixion on the work of a medical team from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School headed by Nico Haas, who had analyzed the crucified man’s bones. In a recent article in the Israel Exploration Journal, however, Joseph Zias, an anthropologist with the Israel Department of Antiquities, and Eliezer Sekeles of Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem question many of Haas’s conclusions concerning the bones of the crucified man.a The questions Zias and Sekeles raise affect many of the conclusions about the man’s position during crucifixion.
According to Haas, the nail in the crucified man penetrated both his right and left heel bones, piercing the right heel bone (calcaneum) first, then the left. Haas found a fragment of bone attached to the right heel that he thought was part of the left heel bone (sustentaculum tali). If Haas’s analysis is correct, the two heel bones must have been penetrated by the same nail, and the victim’s legs must have been in a closed position on the cross.
But according to the new analysis of the bones just published in the Israel Exploration Journal, the bone fragment Haas identified as part of the left heel bone was incorrectly identified. “The shape and structure of this bony fragment is of a long bone; it cannot therefore be the left [heel bone],” say the most recent investigators. Their conclusions are confirmed by x-rays, which reveal the varying density, structure and direction of the bones.
Haas also incorrectly assumed that the nail is seven inches (17–18 cm) long. In fact, the total length of the nail from head to tip is only 4.5 inches (11.5 cm). A wooden plaque less than an inch thick (2 cm) had been punctured by the nail before it passed through the right heel bone. After exiting from the bone, the nail penetrated the cross itself and then bent, probably because it hit a knot. As the new investigators observe, given the length of the nail, “There simply was not enough room for both heel bones and a two centimeter wooden plaque to have been pierced by the nail and affixed to the vertical shaft of the cross. … The nail was sufficient for affixing only one heel bone to the cross.”
In short, only the right heel bone was penetrated—laterally, or sidewise—by the nail. Accordingly, the victim’s position on the cross must have been different from that portrayed by Haas.
The new investigators also dispute Haas’s conclusion that a scratch on the bone of the right forearm (radius) of the victim, just above the wrist, represents the penetration of a nail between the two bones of the forearm. According to Zias and Sekeles, such scratches and indentations are commonly found on ancient skeletal material, including on the right leg bone (fibula) of this man. Such scratches and indentations have nothing to do with crucifixion.
How then was the crucified man attached to the cross?
As the new investigators observe:

“The literary sources for the Roman period contain numerous descriptions of crucifixion but few exact details as to how the condemned were affixed to the cross. Unfortunately, the direct physical evidence here is also limited to one right calcaneum (heel bone) pierced by an 11.5 cm iron nail with traces of wood at both ends.”

According to the literary sources, those condemned to crucifixion never carried the complete cross, despite the common belief to the contrary and despite the many modern reenactments of Jesus’ walk to Golgotha. Instead, only the crossbar was carried, while the upright was set in a permanent place where it was used for subsequent executions. As the first-century Jewish historian Josephus noted, wood was so scarce in Jerusalem during the first century A.D. that the Romans were forced to travel ten miles from Jerusalem to secure timber for their siege machinery.
According to Zias and Sekeles:

“One can reasonably assume that the scarcity of wood may have been expressed in the economics of crucifixion in that the crossbar as well as the upright would be used repeatedly. Thus, the lack of traumatic injury to the forearm and metacarpals of the hand seems to suggest that the arms of the condemned were tied rather than nailed to the cross. There is ample literary and artistic evidence for the use of ropes rather than nails to secure the condemned to the cross.”

According to Zias and Sekeles, the victim’s legs straddled the vertical shaft of the cross, one leg on either side, with the nails penetrating the heel bones. The plaque or plate under the head of the nail, they say, was intended to secure the nail and prevent the condemned man from pulling his feet free.
As Haas correctly suggested, the nail probably hit a knot which bent the nail. However, as Zias and Sekeles reconstruct the removal of the dead man from the cross:

“Once the body was removed from the cross, albeit with some difficulty in removing the right leg, the condemned man’s family would now find it impossible to remove the bent nail without completely destroying the heel bone. This reluctance to inflict further damage to the heel led [to his burial with the nail still in his bone, and this in turn led] to the eventual discovery of the crucifixion.”

Whether the victim’s arms were tied, rather than nailed to the cross is irrelevant to the manner of his dying. As Zias and Sekeles point out:

“Death by crucifixion was the result of the manner in which the condemned man hung from the cross and not the traumatic injury caused by nailing. Hanging from the cross resulted in a painful process of asphyxiation, in which the two sets of muscles used for breathing, the intercostal [chest] muscles and the diaphragm, became progressively weakened. In time, the condemned man expired, due to the inability to continue breathing properly.”


New Analysis of the Crucified Man” by Hershel Shanks first appeared in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 1985.



a. “The Crucified Man from Giv‘at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” Israel Exploration Journal Vol. 35, No. 1 (1985), pp. 22–27.
Zias and Sekeles also note a number of other errors in Haas’s report:
1. The victim’s legs were not broken as a final coup de grâce. The break so identified by Haas was postmortem.
2. The victim did not have a cleft palate. The upper right canine was not missing, despite Haas’s report to the contrary.
3. The wood from which the plaque under the nail head was made was olive wood, not acacia or pistacia, as Hans suggested.
4. The wood fragments attached to the end of the nail were too minute to be analyzed. Haas suggested the vertical shaft of the cross was olive wood. This is possible, but unlikely.


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68 Responses

  1. […] time this week to consider the cross. Study what it meant to be crucified. Consider what Jesus endured for […]

  2. […] storico Hershel Shanks spiega in un articolo sulla Biblical Archeology Review che il legno era difficile da reperire, e i romani riutilizzavano montanti in legno già fissati a […]

  3. sienna says:

    how did they crucify Jesus?

  4. Blob says:

    I would guess that all crucifixions were not identically carried out. For example, an Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) passage prophesied that Jesus would be nailed through his feet AND his hands. It was a horrific experience, that he suffered for us.

  5. Mark Bloch says:

    My debate with a family member who is a Jehovah’s Witness ultimately like me to this article while trying to examine the evidence both for and against Jesus’s crucifixion being on an actual cross.
    Although I am quite the Layman when it comes to archaeological study, I found this article to be a wealth of information but I still have a couple of questions I’m hoping you could help me with.
    Knowing that the Romans were masters of execution and torture, what would have been a more efficient tool for them to use to prolong the suffering of somebody crucified? Since death ultimately came from asphyxiation after a prolonged struggle to keep breathing, would that have been best achieved with the condemned person nailed to a single upright post with their arms above their head or, with their arms outstretched to the sides either tied or nailed to the cross bar? I’ve read where the Romans would use whatever means possible at the times to crucify criminals, I’ve even read where when nothing else was available they would nail the victim to the side of a wall but again, knowing that the Romans seem to Pride themselves on the ra bility to inflict maximum damage during executions my thinking is that since they had a set place we’re executions happened on a regular basis and all of the means and implements were right there, having Jesus Carry the Cross Beam tothe execution site and then attaching that to the top of the steak would you seem to be The Logical conclusion. I would very much appreciate any feedback on this.

    Thank you

  6. Ted Reynolds says:

    There’s also a clue given to us in John 21:18-19 where Jesus reveals how Peter will die.

  7. Guenther Wolkenstein says:

    Anyway, they were crucified naked, without any piece of cloth….

  8. Gary Wendell Stanfield says:

    The Messiah died on a tree, not a cross or post or stake. What he carried which he was to beaten up to carry it was what they called a YOKE. All 3 of them were impaled to one tree. They were executed under Jewish not Roman laws, the Roman soldiers just made sure it was carried out. They did not touch the Messiah that was all done by the Hierarchy of the Jews.

  9. Dr.Howard Davis says:

    Cross is stauros in Greek a pale,stake or pole. It never indicated two pieces of wood in a ‘cross’ as we know it. English word Cross crux in Latin can mean a pole. Jesus referred to ‘Moses lifting up a serpent in the wilderness.’ Moses used a “pole” on which to place the brass (type of judgment) serpent (type of Jesus being made sin for us) was placed.
    When the four Gospels are aligned very carefully we see there were a total of 5 crucified that day not three as seen in paintings.
    John does give us order as to the other three Divine Accounts, but sums up the event :”…And with Him they crucified two [duo]others on this and on that side[same Greek exact expression used by John in Rev.22:2 ‘from here and from there’] moreover Jesus was in the middle.” Greek Jn.19:18 “One” is not in the original. They translated according to tradition. Duo where we get dual or two is used ‘two on each side of Jesus.’
    ‘Criminals’ Luke revolutionaries evil doers; rabble rousers; Matthew and Mark greek robbers : brigands ;thieves; pirates. Two different Greek words. Although not proof in itself of four law breakers it is suggestive when you see the proper order. Start at Luke then go to Matthew and Mark.When they first got to Golgotha they crucified the two criminals or revolutionaries with Christ. “Then” or at that time Gk.adverb of time. Mark AFTER several events in Mark and Mathew they crucified the other two.
    There were four guards (they divided the garment in to ‘four parts’) one for each guard. Then a head guard that is mentioned to watch Christ and over see all. Five guards or soldiers. See Joshua 10 and the five kings.FYI
    By Xeroxing the 4 accounts you can lay them out and see all better.

    So we use wisdom and are open if any archeological or verified historic sources come to light as to the type of instrument on which Jesus was crucified. We do know that it can’t be determined by the word stauros!
    In Christian thought the primary fact is that He was crucified for our sins and that by fully believing on His substitutionary sacrifice we are saved.

  10. johnh374 says:

    For those who think that the Romans nailed criminals to “stakes” rather than what we think of as “crosses”, we do find evidence from both the Bible and history that it was the latter. John 20:25 says there were “nails” in his hands. Would there really be room for “nails” in one’s hands for multiple “nails” if the person crucified were on a “stake” or only a single nail as shown in Jehovah’s Witness literature? Also, we are told, “They also posted above his head the charge against him, in writing: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37 – NWT). Again, if it were a “stake”, the statement would most certainly have been “above his hands” (depicted in JW literature), instead of above his head.

    From history, we find that Seneca the Younger [37AD] recounts: “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.” The outstretched arms cannot refer to a “stake”. (

    In addition, the … oldest depiction of a crucifixion … was uncovered by archaeologists more than a century ago on the Palatine Hill in Rome. It is a second-century graffiti scratched into a wall that was part of the imperial palace complex. It includes a caption — not by a Christian, but by someone taunting and deriding Christians and the crucifixions they underwent. It shows crude stick-figures of a boy reverencing his ‘God,’ who has the head of a jackass and is upon a cross with arms spread wide and with hands nailed to the crossbeam. Here we have a Roman sketch of a Roman crucifixion, and it is in the traditional cross shape” (Clayton F. Bower, Jr: Cross or Torture Stake?). Some 2nd-century writers took it for granted that a crucified person would have his or her arms stretched out, not connected to a single stake: Lucian speaks of Prometheus as crucified “above the ravine with his hands outstretched”.(, reference note 25)

  11. Jaime Dubert says:

    This remains a questionable article. Prisoners were crucified in front of the Jerusalem’s walls in different and contorted positions to weaken the will of those encircled to resist the Romans. It implies that many positions and ways of being crucified were applied to the victims. The sadistic “creativity” of Roman executioners is well represented by the imaginative ways of dying that they created for those sentenced to the arena. The crucified man remains studied by V. Tzaferis were thought by some, at the time of the finding, to be the body of Jesus Christ Himself. Now, I see some coveted interests in denying the “official” crucifixion of the Christ as described in the Christian texts and earler visions.. Beware of biases, dear readers.

  12. Ellis Neiburger says:

    there is no evidence that the individual wasn’t killed before he was hung on the cross or killed after being nailed with weapons that inserted into the soft flesh/organs leaving no skeletal marks. it is possible that the person was hung by the neck from the center of the cross. it is possible that the body was mounted on the cross and feet later nailed (near ground level) so the body could not be easily removed by friends and family. One should note that the romans were aware of ergonomic principles and would expend energy in the most efficient way. tying and nailing a squirming victim to a horizontal cross, then raising him and a heavy cross to an upright position with ropes and pulleys seems to be a lot of work….sort of un-roman. much easier to hang him by a rope around the neck until dead and then tack the feet to the cross. it would be easy to implement and to remove the body. no pulleys, tackle, heavy timbers, heavy work. also easy to reuse which the romans did on a massive scale.

    1. Nelson T. Akinwande says:

      What we consider un-roman now could have been Roman then. We should look at this kind of event with the eye of what was in-vogue ‘then’. Modernism has changed ancient ways of doing things. Ergonomic principles helps to now know how easy to work without must stress but then they had peculiar ways of doing things. System of governance has changed and that includes the Romans. Their prisons outlook, military formation, etc. must have changed from the era of ‘crucifixion’. For instance, they used horses/carts/donkeys to travel at that time but today we use cars, trains; even aircraft. My point, they would only have applied their best known methods at the time even if it involves rigorous tasks. The condemned could have gone nailed to the cross alive and allowed to die slowly; since it was their form of capital punishment.

  13. David deSilva says:

    The argument for the shape of the cross from the Greek word stauros is simply misguided. The use of the noun and the related verb to name the form of execution predates the Roman period, reflecting the Persian period method of nailing someone to a post to die. If the Romans innovated on this by using a T-shaped frame to make the victim even more of a human billboard warning against criminal activity, we should not expect the Greeks to suddenly change their established vocabulary. [There may be some merit to the imagination of the crucifixion scene in Zefferelli’s Jesus of Nazareth, where we find a substantial framework in place on site to which the victims’ crossbeams and ankles were fixed.] Stauros and Stauroo would still be adequate to name the reality, even if the precise shape of the instrument changed.

    We should also give full weight to Josephus’s testimony about the Roman soldiers’ penchant for variety in performing crucifixions. Tying here, nailing there, varying the positions. It’s all they had to break up the monotony and exercise a little initiative of their own in the frequent execution details. (I know Josephus describes an ongoing scene of mass crucifixion as the setting for his note about Roman creativity, but the extreme innovations no doubt practiced there to elicit the comment is, I take it, a token of the more modest innovations practiced routinely by the military.)

  14. Robert says:

    “After exiting from the bone, the nail penetrated the cross itself and then bent, probably because it hit a knot”
    This conclusion from the archaeological evidence of the crucified man, I believe, is incorrect. If it bent hitting a knot, it could not be extracted from the cross without great resistance, which would have resulted in the nail being much straighter than as found. It likely bent when someone attempted to initiate the removal of the nail, after the man was removed from the cross, by hitting it first on the pointed end – but inadvertently bent it.
    If you drive a 6 inch nail into a 2 by 4 piece of wood, the easiest way of extracting it would be to first hit it on the pointed end to overcome resistance in taking it out. However, if your hammer blows are not accurate, the the nail will bend much like the nail shown in the archeological photos of the crucified man.

  15. Richard says:

    The most important thing is He lives. He rose on the third day, and makes intercession for his followers to the Father. And one day soon He will come again, but not as the Lamb this time but the Lion of Judah, and He will vanquish those who would make war with Him.

  16. Clayton says:

    was Jesus the only one pierced when on the cross on

  17. Lee Darin says:

    Also Death by crucifixion on just a plain Crux Simplex would have been quicker. Jehovah’s witnesses would have to change their Bibles to get the death right. This form of crucifixion on a single pole was practiced by the Nazi’s at the concentration camp at Dachau in WW2. If the Victims feet were not impeded in anyway, the victim could lift himself up howbeit briefly. But the most that they could last would be an hour. if the feet were weighed down or tied the victim, would not be able to lift himself up, and the victim would die of asphyxiation in ten minutes it was that quick. In other words Jesus would NOT have lasted six hours nailed to a single pole. He would’ve been dead in the first 10 minutes. If Jesus was crucified the way Jehovah’s Witnesses teach, their bibles should read, “And it was about the sixth minute, and there was a darkness over all the land until the ninth minute.”

  18. Come nasce la colomba pasquale? says:

    […] @Alan Cowan ci dà invece alcune informazioni in più sulla crocifissione. […]

  19. timm64 says:

    Has anyone seen the painting of the man on a stake in the ceiling of the catacomb underneath
    Rome? I think it was DOMITILLA but it was 25 years ago I last saw it and then when I returned to see it again in 2007 and get a photo of it the catacomb was closed that day. :o( Anyway I asked a gardener through the fence if the painting is still there and he said yes. I wish I had a photo of it as it shows a 3rd century painting dying on a post not on a cross. There is also a statue in the Louvre with a man in the same position with his arms upright not spread out as is common in other statues. I thought it was interesting.

  20. Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion (Biblical Archaeological Society, 2011) | Scott Nevins Memorial says:

    […] School in Jerusalem question many of Haas’s conclusions concerning the bones of the crucified man.a The questions Zias and Sekeles raise affect many of the conclusions about the man’s position […]

  21. Ben West says:

    Though the actual appearance of the device upon which Christ died probably does not matter as much as some may think, several things suggest to me that the device was a tau cross. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words, and first century pictures may speak volumes to this question. Ben Witherington’s article from Mar/Apr 2013 issue cited two first century items of graffiti portraying Roman crucifixion, both of them indicating a tau shaped cross.
    Another issue is practicality. A stipe permanently in place upon which the cross-piece along with the individual being crucified is lifted, is a much more practical and efficient means and method. The Romans, being, if nothing else, efficient, would have certainly developed the most practical, efficient means of dispatching their convicted criminals (or slaves that began annoying them).
    And, though some discount tradition as balderdash, there is something to be said for the early Christian tradition indicating that Jesus was executed on a cross shaped device of execution. Since the prophetic “tree” would have indicated no specific shape or size, there would have no reason for the idea of a cross to have been fabricated. It seems reasonable that the oral tradition of the earliest believers would have maintained at least the shape of the instrument of the death of their Lord.
    But I have experienced the saving power of Jesus in my own life, and know that He died for me, whatever the shape of the execution device.

  22. john juedes says:

    surely Romans crucified people on both poles and crosses. But there are 3 excellent reasons to accept that Christ’s cross was indeed a… cross:
    1. Latin terminology: palus = post, patibulum = crosspiece, sedile = seat, titulus = charge written on a tablet
    2. the early graffiti found in a schoolroom in which one student ridicules another. The image has a human on a cross (not a pole) with a donkey head. The inscription reads “Alexamenos worships his god.” The original in in the museum on the Pallantine hill in Rome but you can find photos of this easily.
    3. John 20:25 reads., “Unless I see in his hands (plural) the print of the nails (plural)…” So the typical Jehovah’s Witness drawing of one nail through two hands on a stake is biblically false.
    Most of these who dislike the cross are from groups like Jehovah’s Witnesses who attack the cross in an effort to make the Christian church look inept, not to find historical accuracy.

  23. Eliezer says:

    We may as well explain to David and everybody that Psalms 22:16 REALLY says: “For dogs have encompassed me; a company of evil-doers have inclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.” עֲדַת מְרֵעִים, הִקִּיפוּנִי; כָּאֲרִי, יָדַי וְרַגְלָי.

  24. Rob Palmer says:

    As recipient of BA in psychology in the capitol many years ago, I still marvel at these societies in history using such graphic displays of what they perceive as punishment for transgressions. Even today in mid-east cutting off one’s head is very graphic, almost childish. Makes me feel that the perpetrators are totally insecure with conflict of values and use such means as they feel necessary. Insecure Romans? I guess so. Where are they today?

  25. David deSilva says:

    It is interesting indeed to think about how this particular man was executed, but we also remember the testimony of Josephus that, during the siege of Jerusalem, the Romans exercised their ingenuity in crucifying people in a wide variety of positions just to break the boredom for the numbers they were attaching to crosses. There was probably at least SOME variety in method throughout the period.

    While “stauros” does lexically denote an upright post in most contexts, it is probably relevant to the discussion that the people actually doing the crucifying called their scaffolds “crux/cruces.” This is surely as important to thinking about the shape of the scaffold as the Greek word. So for now I shall refrain from singing “Beneath the Stake of Jesus” or “When I Survey the Wondrous Post” this Good Friday. 🙂

    The testimony of the wounds in the Fourth Gospel postdates the events by at most seventy years. If nothing else, it should be taken as firm evidence that Romans were known to nail all the victim’s extremities at least a good part of the time during the first century. And those who handed on the tradition inscripted in the Fourth Gospel certainly had plenty of opportunities to see actual crucifixions (e.g., leading up and and during the Jewish War).

  26. Silverwolf says:

    Daniel says
    “Archaeology is a fine science, however, interpretation is often very subjective. For certain Christ was nailed to the tree, whatever the form. John (Lazarus) writes in the gospel of John: John 20:25
    So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
    In the Old Testament, the book of Psalms says Psalm 22:16
    Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet—

    As much as this archaeological note says about crucifixion, it also ignores the biblical account of Christ’s wounds, implying in a deliberate way that the historical and prophetic accounts were in error or hyperbole. This is very bad hermeneutics and poorer historical regards for the text of the Bible.”

    Learn some Hebrew. The phrase is “Like a Lion they are at my hands and feet” not unlike American saying of ” The dogs were nippin at my heel” Like a Lion is properly spelled
    Kaf Aleph Resh Yud. If it was pierced it would spell the word Ku Resh Ayin VaV. Some Chrisitian apologists say that the Yud in lion should have been a VaV but was shortened by scribal error. Hence the word would be pierced but omit the fact that their is no Aleph if your looking to define it as pierced nor an the requisite Ayin which is part of the word pierced.

    omnis traductor traditor every translator is a traitor

    Sorry, no Messianic prophecy here.

  27. Kurt says:

    The Ransom—God’s Greatest Gift
    How did Jehovah provide the ransom? He sent one of his perfect spirit sons to the earth. But Jehovah did not send just any spirit creature. He sent the one most precious to him, his only-begotten Son. (Read 1 John 4:9, 10.) Willingly, this Son left his heavenly home.
    Jehovah performed a miracle when he transferred the life of this Son to the womb of Mary. By means of God’s holy spirit, Jesus was born as a perfect human and was not under the penalty of sin.—Luke 1:35.
    How could one man serve as a ransom for many, in fact, millions of humans? Well, how did humans numbering into the millions come to be sinners in the first place? Recall that by sinning, Adam lost the precious possession of perfect human life. Hence, he could not pass it on to his offspring. Instead, he could pass on only sin and death. Jesus, whom the Bible calls “the last Adam,” had a perfect human life, and he never sinned. (1 Corinthians 15:45) In a sense, Jesus stepped into Adam’s place in order to save us. By sacrificing, or giving up, his perfect life in flawless obedience to God, Jesus paid the price for Adam’s sin. Jesus thus brought hope to Adam’s offspring.—Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 15:21, 22.

  28. Armand L Circharo, Jr says:

    Crucifixion was almost certainly a function of locality & resources. There may have been many different methods of this execution depending upon how readily available wood was, how many men were carrying out the sentence, who the condemned was. Crassus crucified some 6,000 slaves after the Third Servile War, known as the Spartacus Revolt, along the Appian Way in 71 BC. I’m sure there were many different variations used; it is unlikely that they would have utilized the tremendous amount of wood required to carry out the sentence on slaves. It also wasn’t very long ago that most people – archaeologists even – believed that the nails were used on or through the hands. We now know this would never have held up and more than likely the nails were applied through the radii or arm bones.

  29. Glenn Ferro says:

    So, based on this single exemplar, the decision is made that this is “the way” Romans crucified people. It doesn’t seem like enough evidence to say that.

  30. John says:

    Throughout history different types of crosses have been used for crucifixions. The type used to hang Jesus on is irrelevant. That He was crucified for the sins of the world says it all.

  31. bridgeto says:

    Everything written with relation to the crucifixion is unreliable. No one was taking notes, and no one foresaw that a world religion would spring from the followers of the victim, therefore everything is anecdotal.
    Also we have no real idea when Christianity ‘took off.’ when was the first century, was it after Constantine’s so called conversion. Did he say this is going to be the first, second, or third century, after Christ?
    How would he determine from where to start and when exactly Jesus had died, unless the Romans were keeping records of every terrorist they executed, which I doubt, I would imagine that they would have been treated as non existent, in a way that the Japanese treated the soldiers who were not officer class.
    I think is was many centuries later that someone had an idea to start the ball rolling.
    The whole business of religion is born from the desires and beliefs and ambitions of human beings, there is nothing supernatural about it.
    How anyone in their right minds in this day and age, believes in a being who is going to reward or punish them in some after life beggar’s belief.

  32. Jesus – Did He Die by Crucifixion? | I Will Go Ministries – Defending the Faith says:

    […] [31] Hershel Shanks, “Scholars Corner: New Analysis of the Crucified Man,” Biblical Archaeology Review 11, no. 2 (Nov/Dec 1985), 20-21, accessed May 20, 2014,…. […]

  33. Is the "crcifixion" just a metaphor? - Page 75 - Religious Education Forum says:

    […] and not specifically to induce rapid death. Crucifixion – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion – Biblical Archaeology Society […]

  34. John tancock (JT) says:

    There are a number of images from the first and second centuries of Jesus or others on a cross not a stake. The JWs have this utterly unsupported idea of a stake based entirely on the earlier meaning of the word Stauros. It’s a bit like saying that a cupboard can only ever mean a board for cups! Words grow and expand their meaning. Or have a range of meaning. In this instance there is NO evidence that a stake was used , there is evidence that a cross was used. Thee is no reason to claim that the bible says stake it doesn’t, and that Jesus dieted on a stake …he didn’t. LOOK AT THe EVIDENCE!

  35. Gene R. Conradi says:

    The so-called presence of a cross in the cities destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius, are highly questionable. One such cross is now believed to be traces left by a set of bookshelves, Another looks strangely like the Egyptian ankh worshiped for centuries before Christ or possibly a so-called Staurogram which is a symbol found on a Herodian coin prior to Jesus’s execution. Archaeologists believe the cross didn’t appear till several hundred years later among (apostate) Christians. Jehovah’s Witnesses stopped using the cross in their magazines in the 1920s as outside evidence and improved Bible scholarship suggested strongly that the cross was actually a pole or stake. And most certainly in either case was not to be revered.or worshiped.

  36. Richard N. says:

    I see that there are still folks who want to change history and historical evidence to fit their belief system; by that I mean that there is obviously commentary by Jehovah’s Witnesses here who want to make stauros = stake to fit the teaching of the Watchtower Society. The closer to the springhead, the purer the water. A 20th century revision by a religious sect, versus historical evidence all the way back to the 1st century (e.g. cross image on the wall after the Vesuvius eruption, etc) is just wishful thinking or anti-Christian bias.

  37. Crucifixion | says:

    […] is no longer available online, but you can find some of the material in his original article here) .  James Tabor also has a good summary of the first century historian Joesphus' references to […]

  38. Joe Zias says:

    This article is woefully out of date and reflects my thoughts and research on the topic in the mid 1980’s. In the world of science ‘absolute truth lasts but ca 20 yrs…and I’ve changed over the years.

  39. Shane McKee @shanemuk says:

    It’s interesting that the “cross” as a symbol was first used by early Coptic Christians, who initially used the Egyptian Ankh (“life”), and it didn’t originally have anything to do with the crucifixion per se. This subsequently morphed into the Latin cross as we have it today, and the various other cruciform decorations that evolved from that (fairly quickly). Fascinating article – thanks!

  40. Michael says:

    The Roman method of a public hanging was on a post, not a cross.

  41. Gene R. Conradi says:

    Since we don’t know the girth, length or type of wood, we most go by the Bible’s statement that it was a stake or pole that Jesus dragged to the place of execution. They eventually had to enlist help for him.

  42. David Paul says:

    From a purely logical perspective that accepts that the Biblical account’s details are accurate and genuine, it HAD to be a crossbeam that was carried to the place of crucifixion. The length and weight of a single beam would have been virtually impossible for any human to carry. Do the math.

  43. links: this went thru my mind | preachersmith says:

    […] Crucifixion: Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion […]

  44. Gene R. Conradi says:

    John-I am strongly inclined to believe that Jesus died on a stake based on evidence presented by other writers above. Roman historian, Seneca the Younger’s words were actually “stretch out your arms on the gibbet”. At times the gibbet was a vertical stake, called in Latin “crux simplex”. This was the simplest available construction for torturing and killing. The Greek words used for Jesus execution in the NT were “stauros” (a stake or pole)or “xy’lon”(tree or stake). So whatever other methods of execution were used in the 1st century, the Bible says Jesus died on a stake. Peter himself said at I Peter 2:24 that Jesus died on a tree (xy’lon, tree or stake). Bibles translations that translate either of these words as “cross” are probably influenced by the adoption of the pagan cross by later apostate Christianity. As already mentioned it has become a thing of idolatrous worship. I shudder to think what people would wear around their neck if Jesus had been hanged.

  45. john Fry says:

    Steven your assertion that it was a simple up right post is not born out from early first century records. Seneca [37AD] stated criminals were crucified with arms outstretched, the Way Jesus said that Peter would be Crucified.

  46. john Fry says:

    According to Josephus at the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD the crosses were as thick as a forest, therefore there was no scarcity of wood as this article suggested.

  47. Ronald says:

    Considering the scarcity of large local timber, why use nails at all. It seems as though nails being continuously driven in and removed would have weakened the vertical timber to such an extent that after a few crucifixions it would no longer sustain the weight of a man. Rope ties would be a better choice. However, in the case of Jesus, nails were used as a means to ridicule his message of his resurrection; a form of mockery.

  48. B. C. Hodge says:

    Scholarship’s radical swing to looking at everything, but the Bible for its data has become quite ridiculous. Whether one believes the Bible to be a supernatural document is quite different than using it as an historical source when it comes to these things. Obviously, since the writers are familiar with crucifixion in the first century and give some vivid details of Christ’s crucifixion, one might have a look at that as a piece of evidence for what may have occurred in some or all cases. Perhaps, nailing one’s hands/wrists were a way of making sure the criminal did not squirm out of the ropes? Bring the data together. Ignoring major pieces of it because of a bias against usi9ng ANY biblical data is absurd.

  49. Allan Rchardson says:

    Personally, I have no theological interest in the method of crucifixion used in the case of Jesus or any other cases, but it is an interesting question of historical trivia and anatomy. It is fortunate indeed that the Romans abandoned crucifixion when they began to worship someone who had been crucified (not that cruel punishments in general were abandoned; witness the abuses of the Inquisition, or being hanged, drawn, AND quartered). But it is unfortunate for historians that so little contemporary literary or archeological evidence has been found: one heel bone out of all the millions of victims in Roman history!

    One reason may be that most of the victims were Greco-Roman pagans, who generally practiced cremation, not burial, in the case of the few victims returned to a family for funerary rituals. However, many, perhaps the majority, were deliberately left on the cross (or stake) to decompose, adding to the indignity AND the warning to passers-by. Governments have often considered executed criminals to be unworthy of their culture’s usual funeral rituals (see Electra in Greek drama; and even today, while executed criminals in most states are returned to their families for burial, Texas confiscates the bodies and buries them in a prison graveyard with only numbered markers, indexed in the prison archives; and hanged criminals in the Old West and the Caribbean were often allowed to rot on the gallows). Any heel bones or wrist bones with nails would have been scattered over the landscape by scavenging animals in this case.

    The Biblical accounts are not contemporary, since they are based upon recollections, possibly second- or third-hand recollections, and may have been edited for theological reasons (as other parts of the text have been shown to be edited). One possible theological reason may have to do with Constantine’s vision of the cross in the sky before the battle which won him the Imperium. A common optical artifact when looking at an extremely bright point or small disk is a pair of apparent “rays” at 90 degree intervals, so Constantine probably saw a cross when a small meteor passed over some distance away. If the “cross” shape was ONE of the common forms of the execution stake, and the Christians around him pointed out that Jesus was crucified, then as Emperor, Constantine could have influenced the bishops to promote the common impression of a pair of boards at right angles, which MAY or may NOT have been the historical fact of the matter, in order to reinforce his confidence in his vision.

    As for nails in both hands and feet, it is not inconceivable that the single-stake method could have involved nailing (after tying with ropes) the hands above the head on opposite sides of the stake, OR EQUALLY, nailing (after tying) the hands to a crossbar. Both methods would add increased pain (which the Romans obviously wanted), and both would produce four nail wounds. Lacking a theological reason to prefer one over the other (for this PARTICULAR victim), we can leave it up to individual imagination, and artistic license in making paintings or sculptures. It belongs in the same category as what race Jesus was; as the song says, little children (and adults) imagine a Jesus the same race as themselves, to increase their feeling of love and connection to their Savior. Likewise, whatever fits your feeling about how much He suffered for you is appropriate; but watch out if you find yourself imagining more and more gruesome pain, because you may actually be imagining yourself torturing someone ELSE!

    Not the Crucifixion but the Resurrection was the demonstration of His, and although hidden by our doubts, our oneness with the Father.

  50. The History of Crucifixion says:

    […] School in Jerusalem question many of Haas’s conclusions concerning the bones of the crucified man.a The questions Zias and Sekeles raise affect many of the conclusions about the man’s position […]

  51. Daniel Moran says:

    Archaeology is a fine science, however, interpretation is often very subjective. For certain Christ was nailed to the tree, whatever the form. John (Lazarus) writes in the gospel of John: John 20:25
    So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

    In the Old Testament, the book of Psalms says Psalm 22:16
    Yea, dogs are round about me; a company of evildoers encircle me; they have pierced my hands and feet—

    As much as this archaeological note says about crucifixion, it also ignores the biblical account of Christ’s wounds, implying in a deliberate way that the historical and prophetic accounts were in error or hyperbole. This is very bad hermeneutics and poorer historical regards for the text of the Bible.

    Dan Moran.

  52. Phil Ruffin says:

    I’m curious as to why it is assumed that the arms were roped to the beam. With both heels nailed in place, the crucified man would hold on to the beam with no need for other support.

  53. John H. Meiners IV says:

    Saying that the crucifixion of Jesus was God the Father’s idea to endure the painful sequence that the sentence of crucifixion inflicts on a person just to die for other men’s sins goes beyond logic. Makes no sense what so ever, thus “senseless” Not suggesting this did not take place, rather this particular execution did… in fact, just as countless others by the hand of Roman rules & law. This account has been embellished on so many times that facts are buried under the writings of those who wish to promote their ideologies .

  54. Versed Up | 3 Trees Tell the Gospel Story says:

    […] 1. Roman Crucifixion Methods Reveal the History of Crucifixion 2. Trees of the Bible Featured image credit: Andrew Hill via Flickr […]

  55. Stephen Boone says:

    This article unfortunately continues the tradition of the “cross” when Romans routinely simple nailed people to a POST, hands above the head, with no cross beam. The word used does NOT mean cross and was just a mistranslation by people who had fortunately never seen a crucifixion. Indeed, try to imagine Roman soldiers wasting all the time needed to create the kind of jointed cross that is usually seen in artworks while they banged up 500 to 1000 people along a road. Incidentally, the fact that the word means a large piece of wood and could be better translated post or staff depending on context makes the comment of Jesus sending out his disciples the last time, when he predicted troubles a lot more sensible. Take a big stick or staff along. NOT a “Cross” for ******** sake. Forgive me thinking of the word which fit’s best there. Let’s just say for “Pete’s” sake.

  56. Keefa says:

    So was it a upright pole stake or a cross?

  57. Nettie says:

    What type of Wood was used in the Roman’s crucifixions? during the time of Jesus?

  58. Ergoeime says:

    If Roman executioners used crucifixion on a regular basis, it would require reusable tools for the task. Wooden beams with pre drilled holes, iron fortified wooden dowels, ordinary rope, and fixed post holes make up for an efficient method to get the job done. Securing the victim to the beam or cross would be a method to insure the body would be supported until the public execution was completed. The body would be removed and most of the cross would be used again for the next execution. Nothing suggests the description in the Bible is inaccurate as to the piercing of the hands and feet. The fastening to the beam or “prospegnumi” (Greek), indicative of fastening with a “peg”, carries the idea of both rope and dowels used in fastening to a wooden beam. The nine times the word phrase “nailed to a cross” is used in Christian Scripture can be compared with similar usage in the LXX and contemporary sources. No conclusive evidence exists to state as Bill O’Reilly does in his book “Killing Jesus”, that Christ was not nailed to a cross. That opinion assumes much more about the Roman method of execution than actual facts support. Jesus was likely attached to a wooden beam by use of both ropes and pegs.

  59. salvatore del brocco says:

    The Bible’s answer
    Many view the cross as the most common symbol of Christianity. However, the Bible does not describe the instrument of Jesus’ death, so no one can know its shape with absolute certainty. Still, the Bible provides evidence that Jesus died, not on a cross, but on an upright stake.

    The Bible generally uses the Greek word stau·ros′ when referring to the instrument of Jesus’ execution. (Matthew 27:40; John 19:17) Although translations often render this word “cross,” many scholars agree that its basic meaning is actually “upright stake.” * According to A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament, stau·ros′ “never means two pieces of wood joining each other at any angle.”

    The Bible also uses the Greek word xy′lon as a synonym for stau·ros′. (Acts 5:30; 1 Peter 2:24) This word means “wood,” “timber,” “stake,” or “tree.” * The Companion Bible thus concludes: “There is nothing in the Greek of the N[ew] T[estament] even to imply two pieces of timber.”

    Is using the cross in worship acceptable to God?

    A crux simplex—the Latin term for a single stake used for impalement of a criminal

    Regardless of the shape of the instrument on which Jesus died, the following facts and Bible verses indicate that we should not use the cross in worship.

    God rejects worship that uses images or symbols, including the cross. God commanded the Israelites not to use “the form of any symbol” in their worship, and Christians are likewise told to “flee from idolatry.”—⁠Deuteronomy 4:15-19; 1 Corinthians 10:14.
    First-century Christians did not use the cross in worship. * The teachings and example of the apostles set a pattern that all Christians should adhere to.—⁠2 Thessalonians 2:15.
    Use of the cross in worship has a pagan origin. * Hundreds of years after the death of Jesus, when the churches had deviated from his teachings, new church members “were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols,” including the cross. (The Expanded Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) However, the Bible does not condone adopting pagan symbols to help make new converts.—⁠2 Corinthians 6:17.

  60. CROSSED OUT – Carpenter worth less than the wood and nails? | Anthony Delaney at Ivy Manchester says:

    […] to the cross beam. Recent archaeology indicates nails only 4.5 inches long would be used, in fact re-examination of a famous crucifixion victim may indicate that just one nail driven through one heel bone would suffice to keep a man on a cross […]

  61. Allan Richardson says:

    There is a practice in the devoutly Catholic nation of the Philippines by which some pious Christians practice penance by having themselves partially crucified in the manner by which Jesus was traditionally crucified. They have found it necessary to support the arms with ropes, using the more modern, smoother, straighter and thinner nails only to provide the additional pain. Of course, they are cut down before irreparable damage is done. There have been medical tests done on (donated) cadavers which show that attempting to hold the weight of the body up solely by nails in the palms merely tears the palms open; while doing so with nails just above the wrists, between the arm bones, just barely holds up the body.

    From a humanitarian viewpoint alone, we should be thankful that we know so little about the process. While no country with Christianity as its primary heritage would revive the practice, non-Christian as well as Christian countries are either more humane than ancient Rome (admittedly a very low bar) or would not give up the efficiency of shooting, hanging or beheading for such a slow process, except possibly as a means of interrogation. I am not sure whether the Nazis experimented with crucifixion; I doubt it, because even though there was an “inside the SS” movement to revive Norse paganism, the majority of Germans, even of the Nazis, believed themselves to be, theologically at least, Christians.

  62. Loy Ocampo says:

    I think there are two types of Roman crucifixion: Nailing to a cross and being tied to a cross.

    Nailing to a cross is “less severe” and “less humiliating” as the condemned dies within a day from loss of blood.

    Tying to a cross is the most severe form of punishment usually reserved for robbers. Insects invited by the stench from the body fluid crawl in and out of the condemned’s crevices. Birds will perch and take a bite on the face and body. Lower abdomen will bulge because of the falling internal organs. The condemned goes mentally-ill shouting, laughing, pleading to be killed but death comes after several days to a week.

    As to the vertical pole, whatever was available, an existing one from previous execution or a tree. The body examined was probably of a condemned thief.

  63. Jude says:

    How high above the ground would it be to the top of the head of the cricified?

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