Crucifixion of Jesus

"Death of Jesus" redirects here. For the book by Joel Carmichael, see Death of Jesus (book).
The Crucifixion (1622) by Simon Vouet; Church of Jesus, Genoa
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The crucifixion of Jesus occurred in 1st century Judea, most probably between the years 30 and 33 AD. Jesus' crucifixion is described in the four canonical gospels, referred to in the New Testament epistles, attested to by other ancient sources, and is established as a historical event confirmed by non-Christian sources,[1] although, among historians, there is no consensus on the precise details of what exactly occurred.[2][3][4]

According to the canonical gospels, Jesus, the Christ, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally crucified by the Romans.[5][6][7][8] Jesus was stripped of his clothing and offered wine mixed with gall to drink, before being crucified. He was then hung between two convicted thieves and according to Mark's Gospel, died some six hours later. During this time, the soldiers affixed a sign to the top of the cross stating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" in three languages. They then divided his garments among them, but cast lots for his seamless robe. After Jesus' death they pierced his side with a spear to be certain that he had died. The Bible records seven statements that Jesus made while he was on the cross, as well as several supernatural events that occurred.

Collectively referred to as the Passion, Jesus' suffering and redemptive death by crucifixion are the central aspects of Christian theology concerning the doctrines of salvation and atonement.


Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth, medieval illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

The baptism of Jesus and his crucifixion are considered to be two historically certain facts about Jesus.[9][10] James Dunn states that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent" and "rank so high on the 'almost impossible to doubt or deny' scale of historical facts" that they are often the starting points for the study of the historical Jesus.[9] Bart Ehrman states that the crucifixion of Jesus on the orders of Pontius Pilate is the most certain element about him.[11] John Dominic Crossan states that the crucifixion of Jesus is as certain as any historical fact can be.[12] Eddy and Boyd state that it is now "firmly established" that there is non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.[13] Craig Blomberg states that most scholars in the third quest for the historical Jesus consider the crucifixion indisputable.[4] Christopher M. Tuckett states that, although the exact reasons for the death of Jesus are hard to determine, one of the indisputable facts about him is that he was crucified.[14]

While scholars agree on the historicity of the crucifixion, they differ on the reason and context for it, e.g., both E. P. Sanders and Paula Fredriksen support the historicity of the crucifixion, but contend that Jesus did not foretell his own crucifixion, and that his prediction of the crucifixion is a "church creation" (p. 126).[15] Geza Vermes also views the crucifixion as a historical event but provides his own explanation and background for it.[15]

John P. Meier views the crucifixion of Jesus as historical fact and states that based on the criterion of embarrassment Christians would not have invented the painful death of their leader.[16] Meier states that a number of other criteria, e.g., the criterion of multiple attestation (i.e., confirmation by more than one source) and the criterion of coherence (i.e., that it fits with other historical elements) help establish the crucifixion of Jesus as a historical event.[17]

Although almost all ancient sources relating to crucifixion are literary, the 1968 archeological discovery just northeast of Jerusalem of the body of a crucified man dated to the 1st century provided good confirmatory evidence that crucifixions occurred during the Roman period roughly according to the manner in which the crucifixion of Jesus is described in the gospels.[18] The crucified man was identified as Yehohanan ben Hagkol and probably died about 70 AD, around the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome. The analyses at the Hadassah Medical School estimated that he died in his late 20s. Another relevant archaeological find, which also dates to the 1st century AD, is an unidentified heel bone with a spike discovered in a Jerusalem gravesite, now held by the Israel Antiquities Authority and displayed in the Israel Museum.[19][20]

New Testament narrative

See also: Gospel harmony

The earliest detailed accounts of the death of Jesus are contained in the four canonical gospels. There are other, more implicit references in the New Testament epistles. In the synoptic gospels, Jesus predicts his death in three separate episodes.[21] All four Gospels conclude with an extended narrative of Jesus' arrest, trial, crucifixion, burial, and accounts of resurrection. In each Gospel these five events in the life of Jesus are treated with more intense detail than any other portion of that Gospel's narrative. Scholars note that the reader receives an almost hour-by-hour account of what is happening.[22]:p.91

Combining statements in the canonical Gospels produces the following account: Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane following the Last Supper with the Twelve Apostles, and then stood trial before the Sanhedrin (a Jewish judicial body), Pontius Pilate (a Roman authority in Judaea), and Herod Antipas (king of Judea, appointed by Rome), before being handed over for crucifixion by the chief priests of the Jews.[23] After being flogged, Jesus was mocked by Roman soldiers as the "King of the Jews", clothed in a purple robe, crowned with thorns, beaten and spat on. Jesus then had to make his way to the place of his crucifixion.

Once at Golgotha, Jesus was offered wine mixed with gall to drink. Matthew's and Mark's Gospels record that he refused this. He was then crucified and hung between two convicted thieves. According to some translations from the original Greek, the thieves may have been bandits or Jewish rebels.[24] According to Mark's Gospel, he endured the torment of crucifixion for some six hours from the third hour, at approximately 9 am,[25] until his death at the ninth hour, corresponding to about 3 pm.[26] The soldiers affixed a sign above his head stating "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" in three languages, divided his garments and cast lots for his seamless robe. The Roman soldiers did not break Jesus' legs, as they did to the other two men crucified (breaking the legs hastened the crucifixion process), as Jesus was dead already. Each gospel has its own account of Jesus' last words, seven statements altogether.[27] In the Synoptic Gospels, various supernatural events accompany the crucifixion, including darkness, an earthquake, and (in Matthew) the resurrection of saints. Following Jesus' death, his body was removed from the cross by Joseph of Arimathea and buried in a rock-hewn tomb, with Nicodemus assisting.

The Crucifixion. Christ on the Cross between two thieves. Illumination from the Vaux Passional, 16th Century
Bronzino's depiction of the Crucifixion with 3 nails, no ropes, and a hypopodium standing support, c. 1545.

According to all four gospels, Jesus was brought to the "Place of a Skull"[28] and crucified with two thieves,[29] with the charge of claiming to be "King of the Jews",[30] and the soldiers divided his clothes[31] before he bowed his head and died.[32] Following his death, Joseph of Arimathea requested the body from Pilate,[33] which Joseph then placed in a new garden tomb.[34]

The three Synoptic gospels also describe Simon of Cyrene bearing the cross,[35] the multitude mocking Jesus[36] along with the thieves/robbers/rebels,[37] darkness from the 6th to the 9th hour,[38] and the temple veil being torn from top to bottom.[39] The Synoptics also mention several witnesses, including a centurion,[40] and several women who watched from a distance[41] two of whom were present during the burial.[42]

Luke is the only gospel writer to omit the detail of sour wine mix that was offered to Jesus on a reed,[43] while only Mark and John describe Joseph actually taking the body down off the cross.[44]

There are several details that are only found in one of the gospel accounts. For instance, only Matthew's gospel mentions an earthquake, resurrected saints who went to the city and that Roman soldiers were assigned to guard the tomb,[45] while Mark is the only one to state the actual time of the crucifixion (the third hour, or 9 am) and the centurion's report of Jesus' death.[46] The Gospel of Luke's unique contributions to the narrative include Jesus' words to the women who were mourning, one criminal's rebuke of the other, the reaction of the multitudes who left "beating their breasts", and the women preparing spices and ointments before resting on the Sabbath.[47] John is also the only one to refer to the request that the legs be broken and the soldier's subsequent piercing of Jesus' side (as fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy), as well as that Nicodemus assisted Joseph with burial.[48]

According to the First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:4), Jesus was raised from the dead ("on the third day" counting the day of crucifixion as the first) and according to the canonical Gospels, appeared to his disciples on different occasions before ascending to heaven.[49] The account given in Acts of the Apostles, which says Jesus remained with the apostles for forty days, appears to differ from the account in the Gospel of Luke, which makes no clear distinction between the events of Easter Sunday and the Ascension.[50][51] However, most biblical scholars agree that St. Luke also wrote the Acts of the Apostles as a follow-up volume to his Gospel account, and the two works must be considered as a whole.[52]

In Mark, Jesus is crucified along with two rebels, and the day goes dark for three hours.[53] Jesus calls out to God, then gives a shout and dies.[53] The curtain of the Temple is torn in two.[53] Matthew follows Mark, adding an earthquake and the resurrection of saints.[54] Luke also follows Mark, though he describes the rebels as common criminals, one of whom defends Jesus, who in turn promises that he (Jesus) and the criminal will be together in paradise.[55] Luke portrays Jesus as impassive in the face of his crucifixion.[56] John includes several of the same elements as those found in Mark, though they are treated differently.[57]

Other accounts and references

An early non-Christian reference to the crucifixion of Jesus is likely to be Mara Bar-Serapion's letter to his son, written sometime after AD 73 but before the 3rd century AD.[58][5][59] The letter includes no Christian themes and the author is presumed to be a pagan.[58][5][60] The letter refers to the retributions that followed the unjust treatment of three wise men: Socrates, Pythagoras, and "the wise king" of the Jews.[58][59] Some scholars see little doubt that the reference to the execution of the "king of the Jews" is about the crucifixion of Jesus, while others place less value in the letter, given the possible ambiguity in the reference.[60][61]

In the Antiquities of the Jews (written about 93 AD) Jewish historian Josephus, stated (Ant 18.3) that Jesus was crucified by Pilate, writing that:[62]

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, ... He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles ... And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross ...

Most modern scholars agree that while this Josephus passage (called the Testimonium Flavianum) includes some later interpolations, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate.[6][7][8] James Dunn states that there is "broad consensus" among scholars regarding the nature of an authentic reference to the crucifixion of Jesus in the Testimonium.[63]

Early in the second century another reference to the crucifixion of Jesus was made by Tacitus, generally considered one of the greatest Roman historians.[64][65] Writing in The Annals (c. 116 AD), Tacitus described the persecution of Christians by Nero and stated (Annals 15.44) that Pilate ordered the execution of Jesus:[62][66]

Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.

Scholars generally consider the Tacitus reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate to be genuine, and of historical value as an independent Roman source.[64][67][68][69][70][71] Eddy and Boyd state that it is now "firmly established" that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.[13]

Another possible reference to the crucifixion ("hanging" cf. Luke 23:39; Galatians 3:13) is found in the Babylonian Talmud:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!
Sanhedrin 43a, Babylonian Talmud (Soncino Edition)

Although the question of the equivalence of the identities of Yeshu and Jesus has at times been debated, many historians agree that the above 2nd-century passage is likely to be about Jesus, Peter Schäfer stating that there can be no doubt that this narrative of the execution in the Talmud refers to Jesus of Nazareth.[72] Robert Van Voorst states that the Sanhedrin 43a reference to Jesus can be confirmed not only from the reference itself, but from the context that surrounds it.[73]

Muslims maintain that Jesus was not crucified and that those who thought they had killed him had mistakenly killed Judas Iscariot, Simon of Cyrene, or someone else in his place.[74] They hold this belief based on various interpretations of Quran 4:157–158, which states: "they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them [or it appeared so unto them], ... Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself".[74]

Some early Christian Gnostic sects, believing Jesus did not have a physical substance, denied that he was crucified.[75][76] In response, Ignatius of Antioch insisted that Jesus was truly born and was truly crucified and wrote that those who held that Jesus only seemed to suffer only seemed to be Christians.[77][78]

The Crucifixion


Main article: Chronology of Jesus

There is no consensus regarding the exact date of the crucifixion of Jesus, although it is generally agreed by biblical scholars that it was on a Friday on or near Passover (Nisan 15), during the governorship of Pontius Pilate (who ruled AD 26–36).[79] Scholars have provided estimates for the year of crucifixion in the range 30–33 AD,[80][81][82] with the majority of modern scholars favouring the date April 7, 30 AD.[83][84] Another popular date is Friday, April 3, 33 AD.[85][86]

Since an observational calendar was used during the time of Jesus, including an ascertainment of the new moon and ripening barley harvest, the exact day or even month for Passover in a given year is subject to speculation.[87][88] . Various approaches have been used to estimate the year of the crucifixion, including the canonical Gospels, the chronology of the life of Paul, as well as different astronomical models.

The consensus of modern scholarship is that the New Testament accounts represent a crucifixion occurring on a Friday, but a Thursday or Wednesday crucifixion have also been proposed.[89][90] Some scholars explain a Thursday crucifixion based on a "double sabbath" caused by an extra Passover sabbath falling on Thursday dusk to Friday afternoon, ahead of the normal weekly Sabbath.[89][91] Some have argued that Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, not Friday, on the grounds of the mention of "three days and three nights" in Matthew before his resurrection, celebrated on Sunday. Others have countered by saying that this ignores the Jewish idiom by which a "day and night" may refer to any part of a 24-hour period, that the expression in Matthew is idiomatic, not a statement that Jesus was 72 hours in the tomb, and that the many references to a resurrection on the third day do not require three literal nights.[89][92]

In Mark 15:25 crucifixion takes place at the third hour (9 a.m.) and Jesus' death at the ninth hour (3 p.m.).[93] However, in John 19:14 Jesus is still before Pilate at the sixth hour.[94] Scholars have presented a number of arguments to deal with the issue, some suggesting a reconciliation, e.g., based on the use of Roman timekeeping in John but not in Mark, yet others have rejected the arguments.[94][95][96] Several notable scholars have argued that the modern precision of marking the time of day should not be read back into the gospel accounts, written at a time when no standardization of timepieces, or exact recording of hours and minutes was available, and time was often approximated to the closest three-hour period.[94][97][98]

Path to the crucifixion

Andrea di Bartolo, Way to Calvary, c. 1400. The cluster of halos at the left are the Virgin Mary in front, with the Three Marys.

The three Synoptic Gospels refer to a man called Simon of Cyrene who is made to carry the cross,[99] while in the Gospel of John, Jesus is said to "bear" his own cross.[Jn. 19:17]

Luke's gospel also describes an interaction between Jesus and the women among the crowd of mourners following him, quoting Jesus as saying "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!' Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.' For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"[Lk. 23:28-31]

The Gospel of Luke has Jesus address these women as "daughters of Jerusalem", thus distinguishing them from the women whom the same gospel describes as "the women who had followed him from Galilee" and who were present at his crucifixion.[100]

Traditionally, the path that Jesus took is called Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Grief" or "Way of Suffering") and is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem. It is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. It passes the Ecce Homo Church and the last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

There is no reference to the legendary[101] Veronica in the Gospels, but sources such as Acta Sanctorum describe her as a pious woman of Jerusalem who, moved with pity as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead.[102][103][104][105]


A diagram of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the historical site

The precise location of the crucifixion remains a matter of conjecture, but the biblical accounts indicate that it was outside the city walls of Jerusalem,[Jn. 19:20] [Heb. 13:12] accessible to passers-by[Mt. 27:39] [Mk. 15:21,29-30] and observable from some distance away.[Mk. 15:40] Eusebius identified its location only as being north of Mount Zion,[106] which is consistent with the two most popularly suggested sites of modern times.

Calvary as an English name for the place is derived from the Latin word for skull (calvaria), which is used in the Vulgate translation of "place of a skull", the explanation given in all four Gospels of the Aramaic word Gûlgaltâ which was the name of the place where Jesus was crucified.[107] The text does not indicate why it was so designated, but several theories have been put forward. One is that as a place of public execution, Calvary may have been strewn with the skulls of abandoned victims (which would be contrary to Jewish burial traditions, but not Roman). Another is that Calvary is named after a nearby cemetery (which is consistent with both of the proposed modern sites). A third is that the name was derived from the physical contour, which would be more consistent with the singular use of the word, i.e., the place of "a skull". While often referred to as "Mount Calvary", it was more likely a small hill or rocky knoll.[108]

The traditional site, inside what is now occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, has been attested since the 4th century. A second site (commonly referred to as Gordon's Calvary[109] ), located further north of the Old City near a place popularly called the Garden Tomb, has been promoted since the 19th century.

People present

The dead Christ with the Virgin, John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene. Unknown painter of the 18th century

The Gospel of Matthew describes many women at the crucifixion, some of whom are named in the Gospels. Apart from these women, the three Synoptic Gospels speak of the presence of others: "the chief priests, with the scribes and elders";[110] two robbers crucified, one on Jesus' right and one on his left,[111] whom the Gospel of Luke presents as the penitent thief and the impenitent thief;[112] "the soldiers",[113] "the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus";[114] passers-by;[115] "bystanders",[116] "the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle";[117] and "his acquaintances"[118]

The Gospel of John also speaks of women present, but only mentions the soldiers[119] and "the disciple whom Jesus loved".[120]

The Gospels also tell of the arrival, after the death of Jesus, of Joseph of Arimathea[121] and of Nicodemus.[122]

Method and manner

Crucifixion of Jesus on a two-beamed cross, from the Sainte Bible (1866)
Torture stake, a simple wooden torture stake. Image by Justus Lipsius.

Whereas most Christians believe the gibbet on which Jesus was executed was the traditional two-beamed cross, the Jehovah's Witnesses hold the view that a single upright stake was used. The Greek and Latin words used in the earliest Christian writings are ambiguous. The Koine Greek terms used in the New Testament are stauros (σταυρός) and xylon (ξύλον). The latter means wood (a live tree, timber or an object constructed of wood); in earlier forms of Greek, the former term meant an upright stake or pole, but in Koine Greek it was used also to mean a cross.[123] The Latin word crux was also applied to objects other than a cross.[124]

However, early Christian writers who speak of the shape of the particular gibbet on which Jesus died invariably describe it as having a cross-beam. For instance, the Epistle of Barnabas, which was certainly earlier than 135,[125] and may have been of the 1st century AD,[126] the time when the gospel accounts of the death of Jesus were written, likened it to the letter T (the Greek letter tau, which had the numeric value of 300),[127] and to the position assumed by Moses in Exodus 17:11–12.[128] Justin Martyr (100–165) explicitly says the cross of Christ was of two-beam shape: "That lamb which was commanded to be wholly roasted was a symbol of the suffering of the cross which Christ would undergo. For the lamb, which is roasted, is roasted and dressed up in the form of the cross. For one spit is transfixed right through from the lower parts up to the head, and one across the back, to which are attached the legs of the lamb."[129] Irenaeus, who died around the end of the 2nd century, speaks of the cross as having "five extremities, two in length, two in breadth, and one in the middle, on which [last] the person rests who is fixed by the nails."[130]

The assumption of the use of a two-beamed cross does not determine the number of nails used in the crucifixion and some theories suggest three nails while others suggest four nails.[131] However, throughout history larger numbers of nails have been hypothesized, at times as high as 14 nails.[132] These variations are also present in the artistic depictions of the crucifixion.[133] In the Western Church, before the Renaissance usually four nails would be depicted, with the feet side by side. After the Renaissance most depictions use three nails, with one foot placed on the other.[133] Nails are almost always depicted in art, although Romans sometimes just tied the victims to the cross.[133] The tradition also carries to Christian emblems, e.g. the Jesuits use three nails under the IHS monogram and a cross to symbolize the crucifixion.[134]

The placing of the nails in the hands, or the wrists is also uncertain. Some theories suggest that the Greek word cheir (χειρ) for hand includes the wrist and that the Romans were generally trained to place nails through Destot's space (between the capitate and lunate bones) without fracturing any bones.[135] Another theory suggests that the Greek word for hand also includes the forearm and that the nails were placed near the radius and ulna of the forearm.[136] Ropes may have also been used to fasten the hands in addition to the use of nails.[137]

Another issue has been the use of a hypopodium as a standing platform to support the feet, given that the hands may not have been able to support the weight. In the 17th century Rasmus Bartholin considered a number of analytical scenarios of that topic.[132] In the 20th century, forensic pathologist Frederick Zugibe performed a number of crucifixion experiments by using ropes to hang human subjects at various angles and hand positions.[136] His experiments support an angled suspension, and a two-beamed cross, and perhaps some form of foot support, given that in an Aufbinden form of suspension from a straight stake (as used by the Nazis in the Dachau concentration camp during World War II), death comes rather quickly.[138]

Words of Jesus spoken from the cross

The New Testament gives three different accounts of the words of Jesus on the cross. In Mark and Matthew Jesus utters only one saying on the cross, while Luke and John each describe three statements unique to them.[139]

Mark / Matthew

The only words of Jesus on the cross in the Mark and Matthew accounts, this is a quotation of Psalm 22. Since other verses of the same Psalm are cited in the crucifixion accounts, it is often considered a literary and theological creation. Geza Vermes, however, points out that the verse is cited in Aramaic rather than the Hebrew in which it usually would have been recited, and suggests that by the time of Jesus, this phrase had become a proverbial saying in common usage.[140] Compared to the accounts in the other Gospels, which he describes as 'theologically correct and reassuring', he considers this phrase 'unexpected, disquieting and in consequence more probable'.[141] He describes it as bearing 'all the appearances of a genuine cry'.[142] Raymond Brown likewise comments that he finds 'no persuasive argument against attributing to the Jesus of Mark/Matt the literal sentiment of feeling forsaken expressed in the Psalm quote'.[143]


The Gospel of Luke does not have the cry of Jesus found within Matthew and Mark, possibly playing down the suffering of Jesus and replacing a cry of desperation with one of hope and confidence, in keeping with the message of the Gospel which Jesus as dying confident that he would be vindicated as God's righteous prophet.[144]


The words of Jesus on the cross, especially his last words, have been the subject of a wide range of Christian teachings and sermons, and a number of authors have written books specifically devoted to the last sayings of Christ.[145][146][147][148][149][150] The difference between the accounts is cited by James Dunn as a reason to doubt their historicity.[151]

Just before His death on the cross, Jesus uttered a single word of victory: tetelestai “its finished”, The Greek words refer to something being finished, accomplished, completed, or coming to an end.[152]

Reported extraordinary occurrences

The synoptics report various miraculous events during the crucifixion.[153][154] Mark mentions darkness in the daytime during Jesus' crucifixion, and the Temple veil being torn in two when Jesus dies.[53] Luke follows Mark;[55] as does Matthew, adding an earthquake and the resurrection of dead saints.[54] No mention of any of these appears in John.[155]


Main article: Crucifixion darkness
Christ on the Cross, by Carl Heinrich Bloch, showing the skies darkened

In the synoptic narrative, while Jesus is hanging on the cross, the sky over Judea (or the whole world) is "darkened for three hours," from the sixth to the ninth hour (noon to mid-afternoon). There is no reference to darkness in the Gospel of John account, in which the crucifixion does not take place until after noon.[156]

Some Christian writers considered the possibility that pagan commentators may have mentioned this event, mistaking it for a solar eclipse - although this would have been impossible during the Passover, which takes place at the full moon. Christian traveller and historian Sextus Julius Africanus and Christian theologian Origen refer to Greek historian Phlegon, who lived in the 2nd century AD, as having written "with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place"[157]

Sextus Julius Africanus further refers to the writings of historian Thallus: "This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour falls on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun."[158] Christian apologist Tertullian believed the event was documented in the Roman archives.[159]

Colin Humphreys and W. G. Waddington of Oxford University considered the possibility that a lunar, rather than solar, eclipse might have taken place.[160][161] They concluded that such an eclipse would have been visible, for thirty minutes, from Jerusalem and suggested the gospel reference to a solar eclipse was the result of a scribe wrongly amending a text. Historian David Henige dismisses this explanation as 'indefensible'[162] and astronomer Bradley Schaefer points out that the lunar eclipse would not have been visible during daylight hours.[163][164]

Modern biblical scholarship treats the account in the synoptic gospels as a literary creation by the author of the Mark Gospel, amended in the Luke and Matthew accounts, intended to heighten the importance of what they saw as a theologically significant event, and not intended to be taken literally.[165] This image of darkness over the land would have been understood by ancient readers, a typical element in the description of the death of kings and other major figures by writers such as Philo, Dio Cassius, Virgil, Plutarch and Josephus.[166] Géza Vermes describes the darkness account as typical of "Jewish eschatological imagery of the day of the Lord", and says that those interpreting it as a datable eclipse are "barking up the wrong tree".[167]

Temple veil, earthquake and resurrection of dead saints

The synoptic gospels state that the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom.

The Gospel of Matthew adds an account of earthquakes, splitting rocks, and the opening of the graves of dead saints - stock motifs from Jewish apocalyptic literature - and describes how these resurrected saints went into the holy city and appeared to many people.[168]

In the Mark and Matthew accounts, the centurion in charge comments on the events: "Truly this man was the Son of God!"[Mk. 15:39] or "Truly this was the Son of God!".[Mt. 27:54] In the Gospel of Luke this becomes, "Certainly this man was innocent!"[Lk. 23:47]

Medical aspects

A number of theories to explain the circumstances of the death of Jesus on the cross have been proposed by physicians and Biblical scholars. In 2006, Matthew W Maslen and Piers D Mitchell reviewed over 40 publications on the subject with theories ranging from cardiac rupture to pulmonary embolism.[169]

Bronzino's Deposition of Christ

In 1847, based on the reference in the Gospel of John (John 19:34) to blood and water coming out when the Jesus' side was pierced with a spear, physician William Stroud proposed the ruptured heart theory of the cause of Christ's death which influenced a number of other people.[170][171]

The cardiovascular collapse theory is a prevalent modern explanation and suggests that Jesus died of profound shock. According to this theory, the scourging, the beatings, and the fixing to the cross would have left Jesus dehydrated, weak, and critically ill and that this would have led to cardiovascular collapse.[172][173]

Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, physician William Edwards and his colleagues supported the combined cardiovascular collapse (via hypovolemic shock) and exhaustion asphyxia theories, assuming that the flow of water from the side of Jesus described in the Gospel of John[19:34] was pericardial fluid.[174]

In his book The Crucifixion of Jesus, physician and forensic pathologist Frederick Zugibe studied the likely circumstances of the death of Jesus in great detail.[175][176] Zugibe carried out a number of experiments over several years to test his theories while he was a medical examiner.[177] These studies included experiments in which volunteers with specific weights were hanging at specific angles and the amount of pull on each hand was measured, in cases where the feet were also secured or not. In these cases the amount of pull and the corresponding pain was found to be significant.[177]

Pierre Barbet, a French physician, and the chief surgeon at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Paris,[178] hypothesized that Jesus would have had to relax his muscles to obtain enough air to utter his last words, in the face of exhaustion asphyxia.[179] Some of Barbet's theories, e.g., location of nails, are disputed by Zugibe.

Orthopedic surgeon Keith Maxwell not only analyzed the medical aspects of the crucifixion, but also looked back at how Jesus could have carried the cross all the way along Via Dolorosa.[180][181]

In an article for the Catholic Medical Association, Phillip Bishop and physiologist Brian Church suggested a new theory based on suspension trauma.[182]

In 2003, historians FP Retief and L Cilliers reviewed the history and pathology of crucifixion as performed by the Romans and suggested that the cause of death was often a combination of factors. They also state that Roman guards were prohibited from leaving the scene until death had occurred.[183]

Theological significance

A series of articles on

Christians believe that Jesus’ death was instrumental in restoring humankind to relationship with God.[184][185] Christians believe that through faith in Jesus’ substitutionary death and triumphant resurrection[186][187] people are reunited with God and receive new joy and power in this life as well as eternal life in heaven after the body’s death. Thus the crucifixion of Jesus along with his resurrection restores access to a vibrant experience of God’s presence, love and grace as well as the confidence of eternal life.[188]

Christology of the crucifixion

See also: Lamb of God

The accounts of the crucifixion and subsequent resurrection of Jesus provide a rich background for Christological analysis, from the canonical Gospels to the Pauline epistles.[189] Christians believe Jesus' suffering was foretold in the Hebrew Bible, such as in Psalm 22, and Isaiah's songs of the suffering servant.[190]

In Johannine "agent Christology" the submission of Jesus to crucifixion is a sacrifice made as an agent of God or servant of God, for the sake of eventual victory.[191][192] This builds on the salvific theme of the Gospel of John which begins in John 1:29 with John the Baptist's proclamation: "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world".[193][194] Further reinforcement of the concept is provided in Revelation 21:14 where the "lamb slain but standing" is the only one worthy of handling the scroll (i.e. the book) containing the names of those who are to be saved.[195]

A central element in the Christology presented in the Acts of the Apostles is the affirmation of the belief that the death of Jesus by crucifixion happened "with the foreknowledge of God, according to a definite plan".[196] In this view, as in Acts 2:23, the cross is not viewed as a scandal, for the crucifixion of Jesus "at the hands of the lawless" is viewed as the fulfilment of the plan of God.[196][197]

Paul's Christology has a specific focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus is directly related to his resurrection and the term "the cross of Christ" used in Galatians 6:12 may be viewed as his abbreviation of the message of the gospels.[198] For Paul, the crucifixion of Jesus was not an isolated event in history, but a cosmic event with significant eschatological consequences, as in 1 Corinthians 2:8.[198] In the Pauline view, Jesus, obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2:8) died "at the right time" (Romans 4:25) based on the plan of God.[198] For Paul the "power of the cross" is not separable from the Resurrection of Jesus.[198]

However, the belief in the redemptive nature of Jesus' death predates the Pauline letters and goes back to the earliest days of Christianity and the Jerusalem church.[199] The Nicene Creed's statement that "for our sake he was crucified" is a reflection of this core belief's formalization in the fourth century.[200]

John Calvin supported the "agent of God" Christology and argued that in his trial in Pilate's Court Jesus could have successfully argued for his innocence, but instead submitted to crucifixion in obedience to the Father.[201][202] This Christological theme continued into the 20th century, both in the Eastern and Western Churches. In the Eastern Church Sergei Bulgakov argued that the crucifixion of Jesus was "pre-eternally" determined by the Father before the creation of the world, to redeem humanity from the disgrace caused by the fall of Adam.[203] In the Western Church, Karl Rahner elaborated on the analogy that the blood of the Lamb of God (and the water from the side of Jesus) shed at the crucifixion had a cleansing nature, similar to baptismal water.[204]


Jesus' death and resurrection underpin a variety of theological interpretations as to how salvation is granted to humanity. These interpretations vary widely in how much emphasis they place on the death of Jesus as compared to his words.[205] According to the substitutionary atonement view, Jesus' death is of central importance, and Jesus willingly sacrificed himself as an act of perfect obedience as a sacrifice of love which pleased God.[206] By contrast the moral influence theory of atonement focuses much more on the moral content of Jesus' teaching, and sees Jesus' death as a martyrdom.[207] Since the Middle Ages there has been conflict between these two views within Western Christianity. Evangelical Protestants typically hold a substitutionary view and in particular hold to the theory of penal substitution. Liberal Protestants typically reject substitutionary atonement and hold to the moral influence theory of atonement. Both views are popular within the Roman Catholic church, with the satisfaction doctrine incorporated into the idea of penance.[206]

In the Roman Catholic tradition this view of atonement is balanced by the duty of Roman Catholics to perform Acts of Reparation to Jesus Christ[208] which in the encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor of Pope Pius XI were defined as "some sort of compensation to be rendered for the injury" with respect to the sufferings of Jesus.[209] Pope John Paul II referred to these Acts of Reparation as the "unceasing effort to stand beside the endless crosses on which the Son of God continues to be crucified."[210]

Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, another common view is Christus Victor.[211] This holds that Jesus was sent by God to defeat death and Satan. Because of his perfection, voluntary death, and resurrection, Jesus defeated Satan and death, and arose victorious. Therefore, humanity was no longer bound in sin, but was free to rejoin God through faith in Jesus.[212]


See also: Jesus in Islam

Most Islamic traditions, save for a few, categorically deny that Jesus physically died, either on a cross or another manner. The contention is found within the Islamic traditions themselves, with the earliest Hadith reports quoting the companions of Muhammad stating Jesus having died, while the majority of subsequent Hadith and Tafsir have elaborated an argument in favor of the denial through exegesis and apologetics, becoming the popular (orthodox) view.

Professor and scholar Mahmoud M. Ayoub sums up what the Quran states despite interpretative arguments:

"The Quran, as we have already argued, does not deny the death of Christ. Rather, it challenges human beings who in their folly have deluded themselves into believing that they would vanquish the divine Word, Jesus Christ the Messenger of God. The death of Jesus is asserted several times and in various contexts." (3:55; 5:117; 19:33.)[213]

The Quranic verse in question which has been interpreted in various ways:

"And they said we have killed the Messiah Isa son of Maryam, the Messenger of God. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him unto himself. God is almighty and wise."
Quran surah 4 (An-Nisa النساء) ayah 157-158[214]

Contrary to Christian teachings, some Islamic traditions teach that Jesus ascended to Heaven without being put on the cross, but that God transformed another person to appear exactly like him and to be then crucified instead of him. This thought is supported in misreading an account by Irenaeus, the 2nd-century Alexandrian Gnostic Basilides when refuting a heresy denying the death.[215] Islamic tradition then picks up alongside the Christian testimony with Isa ascending bodily to Heaven, there to remain until his Second Coming in the End Days.

In art, symbolism and devotions

Detail of the countenance of Christ just dead (1793), by José Luján Pérez, Canary Islands Cathedral, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

Since the crucifixion of Jesus, the cross has become a key element of Christian symbolism, and the crucifixion scene has been a key element of Christian art, giving rise to specific artistic themes such as Ecce Homo, The Raising of the Cross, Descent from the Cross and Entombment of Christ.

The Crucifixion, seen from the Cross by Tissot presented a novel approach at the end of the 19th century, in which the crucifixion scene was portrayed from the perspective of Jesus.[216][217]

The symbolism of the cross which is today one of the most widely recognized Christian symbols was used from the earliest Christian times and Justin Martyr who died in 165 describes it in a way that already implies its use as a symbol, although the crucifix appeared later.[218][219] Masters such as Caravaggio, Rubens and Titian have all depicted the Crucifixion scene in their works.

Devotions based on the process of crucifixion, and the sufferings of Jesus are followed by various Christians. The Stations of the Cross follows a number of stages based on the stages involved in the crucifixion of Jesus, while the Rosary of the Holy Wounds is used to meditate on the wounds of Jesus as part of the crucifixion .

The presence of the Virgin Mary under the cross[Jn. 19:26-27] has in itself been the subject of Marian art, and well known Catholic symbolism such as the Miraculous Medal and Pope John Paul II's Coat of Arms bearing a Marian Cross. And a number of Marian devotions also involve the presence of the Virgin Mary in Calvary, e.g., Pope John Paul II stated that "Mary was united to Jesus on the Cross".[220][221] Well known works of Christian art by masters such as Raphael (e.g., the Mond Crucifixion), and Caravaggio (e.g., his Entombment) depict the Virgin Mary as part of the crucifixion scene.

Media related to Icons of the crucifixion of Christ and Paintings of Crucifixion of Christ at Wikimedia Commons

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Crucifixion of Christ.


  1. Eddy, Paul Rhodes and Gregory A. Boyd (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. Baker Academic. p. 172. ISBN 0801031141. ...if there is any fact of Jesus' life that has been established by a broad consensus, it is the fact of Jesus' crucifixion.
  2. Christopher M. Tuckett in The Cambridge companion to Jesus edited by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 Cambridge Univ Press ISBN 978-0-521-79678-1 pages 123–124
  3. Funk, Robert W.; Jesus Seminar (1998). The acts of Jesus: the search for the authentic deeds of Jesus. San Francisco: Harper. ISBN 978-0060629786.
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  7. 1 2 Evans, Craig A. (2001). Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies ISBN 0-391-04118-5 page 316
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  12. Crossan, John Dominic (1995). Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. HarperOne. p. 145. ISBN 0-06-061662-8. That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus ... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact.
  13. 1 2 Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition Baker Academic, ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 page 127
  14. The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0-521-79678-4 page 136
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  29. Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27-28; Luke 23:33; John 19:18
  30. Matthew 27:37 - "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."; Mark 15:26 - "The King of the Jews."; Luke 23:38 - "This is the King of the Jews." Some manuscripts add in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew; John 19:19-22 - "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." "... it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek."
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  37. Matthew 27:44; Mark 15:32; Luke 23:39
  38. Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44-45
  39. Matthew 27:51; Mark 15:38; Luke 23:45
  40. Matthew 27:54; Mark 15:39; Luke 23:47
  41. Matthew 27:55-56; Mark 15:40-41; Luke 23:49
  42. Matthew 27:61; Mark 15:47; Luke 23:54-55
  43. Matthew 27:34; 27:47-49; Mark 15:23; 15:35-36; John 19:29-30
  44. Mark 15:45; John 19:38
  45. Matthew 27:51; 27:62-66
  46. Mark 15:25; 15:44-45
  47. Luke 23:27-32; 23:40-41; 23:48; 23:56
  48. John 19:31-37; 19:39-40
  49. John 19:30–31; Mark 16:1; Mark 16:6
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  51. E. P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, (Penguin, 1993), page 276.
  52. Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction, (Intervarsity, 1990) pages 125, 366.
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  58. 1 2 3 Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian by Ute Possekel 1999 ISBN 90-429-0759-2 pages 29–30
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  63. Dunn, James (2003). Jesus remembered ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 141
  64. 1 2 Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Eerdmans Publishing ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 39–42
  65. Backgrounds of early Christianity by Everett Ferguson 2003 ISBN 0-8028-2221-5 page 116
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  100. Luke 23:46 and 23:55
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  108. Eucherius of Lyon. "Letter to the Presbyter Faustus". The three more frequented exit gates are one on the west, another on the east, and a third on the north. As you enter the city from the northern side, the first of the holy places due to the condition of the directions of the streets is to the church which is called the Martyrium, which was by Constantine with great reverence not long ago built up. Next, to the west one visits the connecting places Golgotha and the Anastasis; indeed the Anastasis is in the place of the resurrection, and Golgotha is in the middle between the Anastasis and the Martyrium, the place of the Lord's passion, in which still appears that rock which once endured the very cross on which the Lord was. These are however separated places outside of Mount Sion, where the failing rise of the place extended itself to the north.
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  111. Mark 15:27; Matthew 27:38
  112. Luke 23:39-43
  113. Luke 23:36
  114. Matthew 27:54; cf. Mark 15:39
  115. Mark 15:29; Matthew 27:39
  116. Mark 15:35; Matthew 27:45; cf. Luke 23:35
  117. Luke 23:48
  118. Luke 23:49
  119. John 19:23-24, 19:32-34
  120. John 19:26-27
  121. Mark 16:43-46, Matthew 27:57-50, Luke 23:50-53, John 19:38
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  127. Epistle of Barnabas, 9:7-8
  128. "The Spirit saith to the heart of Moses, that he should make a type of the cross and of Him that was to suffer, that unless, saith He, they shall set their hope on Him, war shall be waged against them for ever. Moses therefore pileth arms one upon another in the midst of the encounter, and standing on higher ground than any he stretched out his hands, and so Israel was again victorious" (Epistle of Barnabas, 12:2-3).
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  143. Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah Volume II (Doubleday, 1994) page 1051
  144. John Haralson Hayes, Biblical Exegesis: A Beginner's Handbook (Westminster John Knox Press, 1987) page 104-5.
  145. David Anderson-Berry, 1871 The Seven Sayings of Christ on the Cross, Glasgow: Pickering & Inglis Publishers
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  148. Simon Peter Long, 1966 The wounded Word: A brief meditation on the seven sayings of Christ on the cross Baker Books
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  150. Alexander Watson, 1847 The seven sayings on the Cross John Masters Publishers, London, page 5
  151. James G. D. Dunn, Jesus Remembered, (Eerdmans, 2003) page 779–781.
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  153. Scott's Monthly Magazine. J.J. Toon; 1868. The Miracles Coincident With The Crucifixion, by H.P.B. p. 86–89.
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  156. Edwin Keith Broadhead Prophet, Son, Messiah: Narrative Form and Function in Mark (Continuum, 1994) page 196.
  157. Origen. "Contra Celsum (Against Celsus), Book 2, XXXIII".
  158. Donaldson, Coxe (1888). The ante-Nicene fathers. 6. New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Co. p. 136.
  159. "In the same hour, too, the light of day was withdrawn, when the sun at the very time was in his meridian blaze. Those who were not aware that this had been predicted about Christ, no doubt thought it an eclipse. You yourselves have the account of the world-portent still in your archives."Tertullian. "Apologeticum".
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  161. Colin Humphreys, The Mystery of the Last Supper Cambridge University Press 2011 ISBN 978-0-521-73200-0, p. 193 (However note that Humphreys places the Last Supper on a Wednesday)
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  211. See Development of the Christus Victor view after Aulén
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  214. Quran 4:157–158
  215. "Wherefore he did not himself suffer death, but Simon, a certain man of Cyrene, being compelled, bore the cross in his stead; so that this latter being transfigured by him, that he might be thought to be Jesus, was crucified, through ignorance and error, while Jesus himself received the form of Simon, and, standing by, laughed at them. For since he was an incorporeal power, and the Nous (mind) of the unborn father, he transfigured himself as he pleased, and thus ascended to him who had sent him, deriding them, inasmuch as he could not be laid hold of, and was invisible to all" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book I, ch. 24, 4).
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Further reading

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