The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ(as) – An Alternative Reading of the Four Gospels

2 Comments | March 2012

Introduction

The last few days of Jesus(as) in Jerusalem are perhaps the most analysed in his life. The four Gospels of the New Testament give a detailed account of the events leading up to the crucifixion.  This, along with a historical perspective, provide an insight into Jesus’(as) final days in Jerusalem, allowing us to deconstruct whether he really did go willingly on the cross; if at all he was crucified; or indeed whether he actually survived this terrible ordeal as God’s plan of saving His beloved Messenger unfolded. It is worthwhile beginning with Jesus’(as) visit to Jerusalem for the Passover. Prior to this the chief priests had gathered and concluded that it would be in the best interests of the nation that Jesus(as) should die.[1] It is likely that this plan was disclosed to Jesus(as), either through revelation or via his secret disciples.[2] Disturbed by such news, Jesus(as) sought comfort in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus’ (as) Arrest in Gethsemane and Trial before the Sanhedrin

Being a Prophet of God, Jesus(as) first and foremost turned to God and prayed intensely for God to foil the plans of his enemies: ‘Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.’[3] He was greatly ‘distressed and troubled’; he sought solitude, and fell to the ground and prayed. In fact, his prayer was so intense that some manuscripts[4] state that he sweated blood. He prayed fervently for God to remove this ‘cup’ from him; the ‘cup’ being a symbolic term for destiny.[5] Jesus(as) was not concerned for his own life, but rather the actual plan of the Jewish priests for a public execution. If such a plan went ahead, it would have brought the Divine mission of Jesus(as) to an end; his disciples and all those who believed him to be the Messiah would abandon such belief, as Jesus(as) would have died an ‘accursed death’ – shaking the very foundations of his Messianic claim. According to the Old Testament the punishment for such criminals was to hang their bodies on a tree or wooden pole following execution as a deterrent to others, thus sending a clear message, that such people were accursed by God.[6] It was for this very reason that Jesus(as) prayed to God to foil the plans of his enemies so that he should not die on the cross.

Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem where Jesus(as) prayed before his crucifixion.

Shortly afterwards, whilst Jesus(as) was still in prayer, Jewish soldiers from the Temple came to arrest Jesus(as).[7] He surrendered and was taken to the Sanhedrin (Jewish council) for a quick and spurious trial, ‘And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none.’ Yet was convicted of blasphemy and condemned to death.[8] But such a sentence could only be carried out by the Romans.[9] Therefore, Jesus(as) was brought before Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea.

Jesus(as) Brought before Pilate

Since only the Roman officials were permitted to execute criminals, the Jewish council took Jesus(as) to Pilate. The allegation laid against Jesus(as) was modified to insurrection,[10] yet Pilate (according to the gospels) found no reason to have him put to death: ‘Then said Pilate to the chief priests and [to] the people, I find no fault in this man.[11] Instead, he tried his utmost to free him; he himself interrogated him[12] and attempted to pass the responsibility to Herod Antipas.[13] He even went so far as freeing a murderer in an attempt to rescue Jesus(as).[14] This may not be wholly attributable to the pious behaviour of Pilate, since other contemporary and less biased texts present Pilate in a very poor light: Philo, a Jewish Philosopher who lived at the same time as Jesus(as) discusses in depth the ‘briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injuries, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty.’[15] There must have been strong reasons for Pilate to act like this; it may have been due to his wife having a dream regarding Jesus’(as) innocence[16] or it may also be due to Pilate wishing to safeguard his position and authority: he wished to avoid disturbances and riots at all costs, and if he sentenced Jesus(as) to death, Jesus’(as) followers may have begun to cause trouble in order to save him (he may well have heard the commotion when Jesus(as) entered Jerusalem[17] and thus assumed he had a large following). However, there was little that he could do, for the Jewish crowds lead on by the priests would equally have caused a riot if he did not comply with their request: ‘And the governor said, Why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified.[18] This being a stronger threat, the end result was that Jesus(as) was delivered to be crucified.[19]

The Crucifixion

Jesus(as) was taken to Golgotha where he was then offered wine to dull the pain,[20] but he refused to drink since he still held hope that his prayers would be answered and that he would not die on the cross – an accursed death. As the hours passed on the cross, Jesus(as) felt himself slipping into unconsciousness. Fearing that God may have abandoned him, he cried out: “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani?” meaning,  “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”[21]. Uncomfortable with this cry of despair, numerous interpreters argue that Jesus(as) is simply quoting Psalms 22:1. According to them, Jesus(as) was both fully God and fully human. God cannot be anywhere near sin, and since Jesus(as) was atoning for the sins of humanity, i.e. taking on their sins, the ‘God side’ of Jesus(as) had to leave, leaving the ‘human side’ to lament over the separation. However, there is a critical problem with this theory; the words above were uttered by Jesus(as) in Aramaic. The Hebrew of the Psalms is “Eli ‘Eli lamah ‘azabtani?” while Jesus(as) actually cried out “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabach-thani?”  Why would Jesus(as) quote a Hebrew text in Aramaic translation? The Jews in those days would have known many of the Psalms by heart, and Jesus(as) must have known them too. So why would he quote it in a different tongue as opposed to the verse direct in Hebrew?

Golgotha was the site where Jesus(as) was said to have been placed on the crucifix.

The answer is, that it was a cry of desperation, seeing that things were not going the way he had expected.  He knew God would heed the call and prayer of His Prophet and Messiah, yet he could feel his strength wavering and perhaps saw no other opportunity of surviving the ordeal, he cried out to God “Why have You forsaken me?” This clearly indicates that even up to this point Jesus(as) never gave up his faith and hope in prayers and he believed that God the Almighty would most certainly help him and answer his prayers. From this, one can easily understand and believe the fact that Jesus(as) did not want to sacrifice himself for the sins of the world, instead he cried to God in desperation for his life to be spared, and indeed, God responded by saving Jesus(as) from dying on the cross. Otherwise, the only alternative we have to choose from is that God forbid, Jesus(as) died an ‘accursed death’.

Jesus(as) Still Alive

The Sabbath, which would begin at dusk on Friday was approaching, and therefore the criminals on the cross had to be taken down and killed immediately according to Jewish law. The two thieves on either side of Jesus(as) were executed, but the soldiers saw that Jesus(as) was unconscious and thought him already dead; ‘…when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs: But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.’ Thus, to ensure they were not mistaken in considering Jesus(as) dead, they pierced his side with a spear, resulting in a sudden flow of blood and water,[24] a sure medical sign that his heart was still pumping and that he was alive.

It is often argued by some interpreters that Jesus(as) had died before the actual thrust of the spear in his side, and if Jesus(as) was not dead, then the spear thrust would have killed him. However, the author of the gospel chose the Greek verb ‘ηΰσσω’ (nussow) meaning: to prick, stab or pierce[25] when describing the action of the soldier; implying a small cut or prick, the intention being to ensure that Jesus(as) was in fact dead, since the prick would have made Jesus(as) flinch. Even a prick did not cause any involuntary movement. Some interpreters have come up with fascinating medical conditions and theories of why ‘blood and water’ came out of Jesus(as) including discussions of a fluid build up in the lungs or around the heart. Yet, it should be remembered that the spear was a small prick and not a deep thrust into the side. Researcher and writer Holger Kersten, author of several books including Jesus Lived in India and The Jesus Conspiracy: The Turin Shroud and the Truth about the Resurrection writes:

‘It appears that the expression ‘blood and water’ is a traditional idiom from the ornate Arabian language, intended to emphasise a certain happening. Today we can say someone ‘sweats blood’ – the German equivalent is ‘to sweat blood and water’, ‘Blut und Wasser schwitzen’ – if he works hard or is very anxious, without meaning that blood actually comes from the pores. The same expression, applied when observing a wound, could simply mean that a lot of blood is visible. The eyewitness was doubtless surprised to see so much blood pouring out from a supposedly dead body through a minor scratch wound, and aptly expressed his surprise.’[26]

Since the Roman soldiers saw no movement and thought him dead, they reported it to their superiors, and so Jesus(as) was given over to his disciples, namely Joseph of Arimithea and Nicodemus: And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound [weight].’ Nicodemus thus applied 100 pounds of myrrh and aloe on his body.[27] The two herbs are significant and very important as they show further proof that the disciples knew that Jesus(as) was still alive, since both herbs have healing properties and were used as medicine in the ancient world.

Joseph of Arimathea (by artist Pietro Perugino circa 1495)

Aloe is a genus containing about 500 species, the most common one being Aloe Vera which grows in Africa and the Middle East. It is very valuable due to its qualities, so much so that the great thinker Aristotle, being aware that the healing properties of Aloe would be invaluable to soldiers wounded in battle, advised his student Alexander III (‘the Great’) to conquer all lands that grew it, especially the island of Socotra off the coast of Eastern Africa.  Similarly, Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician in the Roman army, mentioned medicinal Aloes in his encyclopaedic Greek herbal De Materia Medica (Approximately around 75 BC)[28]. Myrrh is equally valuable:

‘In the past Myrrh was used by many cultures for religious ceremonies and as a healing agent. It was mentioned in the Bible as a gift at the birth of Christ. The Egyptians believed in its healing powers: they burned it every day as part of their worship rituals. In the Greek culture when soldiers went to battle is was an essential part of their combat gear because of Myrrh’s extremely high antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. It was used to clean wounds and to prevent infection. It was also used to prevent the spread of gangrene in already infected parts of the body.’[29]

Numerous interpreters have argued that the above herbs were used in the process of embalming or that they were rubbed on the body of the deceased as per the Jewish custom of the day.[30] However, embalming was not a Jewish custom, as it involved cutting the body and the removal of the internal organs, something abhorrent to Jews. It is true that Jewish burial customs did involve the rubbing of oils on the deceased, but this was for cleansing purposes; the bodies would have been washed, and the use of ointments and herbs to aid in the washing may have been applied, but never aloe and myrrh, which were very costly and not used as cleansing agents, but rather as medicines. Other uses of spices and herbs were for the scent: Josephus, a first century Jewish historian, speaks about Herod the Great’s burial; that it required 500 of his servants to carry the spices to his tomb.[31] But again, these were never applied to the body, rather they were burnt:

‘You shall die in peace. And as spices were burned for your fathers, the former kings who were before you, so men shall burn spices for you and lament for you, saying, “Alas, lord!”’ For I have spoken the word, says the LORD.[32]

There can be no other explanation for the application of such a large quantity of these healing herbs being applied to Jesus(as), other than to heal his wounds and stop the bleeding. Thus, the two disciples who took away Jesus’(as) body knew that he was still alive and had planned his rescue, they brought along with them large amounts of herbs and medicines to wrap Jesus’(as) body, to stop the excessive bleeding and aid the healing.

Jesus(as) Placed in a Tomb

Once the bleeding was taken care of, Jesus(as) was then placed in an airy tomb owned by Joseph.[33] On the following day, the chief priests and Pharisees came to Pilate and asked him to place some guards at the tomb.[34] It has been suggested that they feared the disciples might come and steal the body and then claim that he resurrected from the dead. However, this suggestion is absurd as it would not be a concern for anyone, even if the disciples did steal the body, what were they to do with it? If they claimed Jesus(as) had resurrected the simple question of ‘where is he?’ would have put a stop to the claim. The real reason the priests asked for a guard seems to be that even they doubted that Jesus(as) had died; the duration of the ordeal and quick ‘death’ raised their suspicions and as such, they wished to have men guarding the cave in case the disciples came and aided Jesus(as) from the tomb. In the end, Pilate agreed to place some guards, nevertheless they could not stop God’s plan of saving Jesus(as).

Conclusion

The facts relating to the period before crucifixion as well as the facts of the crucifixion itself and after it, as related by the New Testament, indicate that Jesus(as) did not go on the cross willingly; in fact he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemene to be saved from the ordeal planned by the Jewish priests and he displayed utmost faith during the trials. Alas, his prayers were answered. God’s plan unfolded as reported in the Gospel texts themselves; Jesus(as) displayed signs of life, was wrapped in medical ointments and finally placed in a tomb where he could recover.

Although he was challenged and taunted on the cross by the Jewish priests ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe[35], in the end, his prayer was answered, his claim to be the Messiah was proven true when he did come down from the cross alive, as the Holy Qur’an attests:

And their saying, `We did slay the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah;’ whereas they slew him not, nor crucified him, but he was made to appear to them like one crucified; and those who differ therein are certainly in a state of doubt about it; they have no definite knowledge thereof, but only follow a conjecture; and they did not convert this conjecture into a certainty. On the contrary, Allah exalted him to Himself. And Allah is Mighty, Wise.[36]

As Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as) states in his ground breaking treatise, Jesus In India:

‘….Jesus’ (peace be on him) meeting the disciples after his Crucifixion; his travelling up to Galilee; eating bread and meat; his display of wounds on his body: staying a night with the disciples at Emmaus; fleeing secretly from Pilate’s jurisdiction; emigrating from that place, as was the practice of prophets; and travelling under the shadow of fear — all these events are conclusive that he did not die on the Cross; that his body retained its mortal character; and that it had undergone no change.’[37]

Endnotes

  1. John 11:49-50
  2. Mark 14:18-21, John 13:21-30
  3. Matt 26:36-46
  4. Codex Sinaiticus and Bezae
  5. Matthew 20:22
  6. Deuteronomy 21:22
  7. John 18: 2-4, 10-12
  8. Mark 14: 53-55, 61-64
  9. John 18:31
  10. Luke 23:2
  11. Luke 23:4
  12. Mark 15:2-5
  13. Luke 23: 6-12
  14. Matthew 27: 15-23
  15. Philo, On The Embassy of Gaius Book XXXVIII, pp.299-305
  16. Matthew 27:19
  17. Matthew 21:9-12
  18. Matthew 27: 24-26
  19. John 19: 16
  20. Mark 15:22-27
  21. Mark 15: 34
  22. John 19: 28-29
  23. Luke 23:46
  24. John 19: 31-34
  25. Friberg, Miller. Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament
  26. Kersten, Holger, The Jesus Conspiracy: The Turin Shroud & The Truth About The Resurrection, (1995),  p.251
  27. John 19: 38-42
  28. www.aloe-spectrum.com/body_aloes.htm — Aristotle’s view on Aloe
  29. mdmd.essortment.com/whatismyrrh_riss.htm — myrrh properties explored
  30. John 19:40
  31. Antiquities book 17, 199
  32. Jeremiah 34:5
  33. John 19: 41-42
  34. Matt 27:62-66
  35. Mark 15: 17-32
  36. The Holy Qur’an, Ch.4:Vs.158-159
  37. Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India, Chapter 1
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2 comments
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  1. The style of references is truly inspiring as a chunk of them are derived from the Bible.

  2. Simple and well written. I wish more were able to read this. It will always be an endless debate however for those of us who know; it is not the complexity of it; rather the simpleness of it that brings clarity.

    Racheal

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