MAGAZINE: EDITION MARCH 2021
Christianity

An Alternative Narrative: How the Crucifixion of Jesus (as) Unfolded

©Shutterstock

Ahmad Nooruddeen Jahangeer Khan, UK

As the Christian world celebrates the resurrection of Jesus (as) during Easter, we are reminded of the sacrifices of this chosen one of God, and indeed the horrific ordeals he had to go through in his quest to convey the message of God to his people. Easter is considered by many as the most important festival in the Christian calendar. Christians believe it signifies God raising His son from the dead and the opening of Heaven with the gift of eternal life to all. Easter is a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus (as) – upon which rests the entire foundation of the Christian faith. 

For others, however, the Biblical account points to a different narrative of the events in Jerusalem up until this resurrection. In this article I shall highlight some of the main events that took place in the life of Jesus (as) from the beginning of his ministry to his departure from Jerusalem post-crucifixion, and try to allow readers to see these incidents in a different light, if not an entirely new one. 

A Single Sign 

To begin with, we find in the gospels of Matthew and Luke that shortly after Jesus (as) was commissioned by God to gather the lost sheep of Israel, he was confronted by the scribes and Pharisees who wanted to put his claim to the test and demanded a sign. In response,  Jesus (as) said, ‘An evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.’ [1] Jesus (as) then explained that just as Jonah (as) spent three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so too would he spend three days and nights in the belly of the earth. Hence, in order for this sign to mirror the conditions of Jonah (as), Jesus (as) had to appear once more after being rejected by his people. Not only that, as Jonah (as) emerged alive from the belly of the whale and continued in his mission of preaching, the same must also have been the case with Jesus (as).

A Night in Prayer…But to What End?

Unconvinced of the messiahship of Jesus (as), the Jews urged he be arrested by the Romans on charges of treason for allegedly claiming to be the King of the Jews. Understanding the dire situation he was in, Jesus (as) spent the night in the Garden of Gethsemane supplicating fervently to his Lord, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’ [2] Thereafter, Jesus (as) was betrayed by one of his own disciples and arrested. But the question arises – if Jesus (as) was already aware that he was to die on the cross for the sins of mankind, as Christians claim, why would he feel the urge and the need to spend a whole night praying in hope and in search of a possibility to be saved from the entire ordeal? Was it down to human weakness and fear of death, or was it because he knew death at this point would leave his mission from God unfulfilled? Another factor to ponder over is if this most vividly described prayer of Jesus (as) to be saved was even heard. Jesus (as) himself is recorded to have said, ‘Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive.’ [3] Does his supposed death on the cross not then mean that, God forbid, Jesus (as) lacked in his faith, or is there a possibility that his prayer for salvation was answered in a way he had not yet comprehended?

A Mastermind Plan 

After his arrest, Jesus (as) was brought to Pontius Pilate, the governor of the time, to decide his fate. It is notable in the gospels that after questioning him, Pilate found Jesus (as) to be an innocent man. What’s more is that his wife had an overwhelming feeling that it would be wrong to punish Jesus (as) as she was shown a sign indicating this by God Almighty. In Matthew we read: ‘While he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that innocent man, for today I have suffered a great deal because of a dream about him.”’ [4] Hence, Pilate pleaded to the people that he found nothing in Jesus (as) that warranted punishment. Incensed by this decision, the Jewish people cried over and over for Jesus (as) to be killed by crucifixion – an accursed death – as this would confirm their belief that he was a false prophet. Unable to convince the people, he also could not afford to have them mutiny. Pilate asked for a bowl of water to wash his hands, signifying that he would have nothing to do with the blood of this innocent man, [5] and reluctantly gave in to their demands. 

Subsequently, as per Roman tradition before an execution, the accused was to be humiliated further. Having taken him to the courtyard, they clothed him in a purple cloak and placed a crown made of twisted thorns, mockingly hailing him as the ‘King of the Jews .’ [6] This was followed by the scourging where Jesus (as) was flogged, but the important point to remember is that the blood loss from this was not significant enough to cause a healthy young man to die prematurely (for further information see ‘Jesus Christ did not Die on the Cross – A Cardiologist’s Perspective,’ The Review of Religions March 2012 edition). Despite all this, hope was not lost, for Pilate was able to mastermind a plan in an attempt to actually save Jesus (as). 

Jesus(as) on the Cross…But Not For Long

Pilate thus set the crucifixion time to be a little before sundown on Friday. This was because he knew it was forbidden by Jewish law to have bodies hanging on the cross by the start of the Sabbath. After having carried his cross part of the way to Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, there are discrepancies within the gospels as to exactly how long Jesus (as) was on the cross, but what we do know is that after three to four hours of being on the cross, it became dark, [7] which forced them to take him down. 

Based on historical facts, the New Bible Dictionary concludes that death by crucifixion rarely occurs before thirty-six hours, and can take as long as nine days. [8] Flavius Josephus, a historian from the first century CE and writer Plutarch (ca. 75 CE) are among many others who have described survivors of crucifixions and mention some individuals who survived up to ten days on the cross. Thus, the likelihood of Jesus (as) dying within the few hours he was on the cross would have been extremely low, and even the two thieves who were placed on the cross at the same time were still alive. [9] The very fact that Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus (as) was already dead [10] shows that it was very much out of the ordinary for a man to die so quickly on the cross. 

To speed up the process of death, it was customary to break the legs of those on the cross. This is what happened to the two thieves, but what is peculiar is that the Romans did not break the legs of Jesus (as) . This is because as darkness fell, after Jesus (as) cried out, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ [11] he bowed his head, in what some describe as ‘giving up the ghost’, i.e., he was thought to have already died. So instead – likely on the command of Pilate – a Roman soldier used his spear to pierce the side of Jesus (as), causing a gushing forth of blood and water. [12] In the case of a dead person, the blood would congeal, resulting in poor blood flow, yet quite the opposite was witnessed in this case. This categorically points to the fact that the heart was still beating and circulating blood around the body whilst he was in a coma or swoon. 

We should also bear in mind that if Jesus (as) died on the cross, then the Jewish people would be proven correct in their claim that he was the false Messiah. They lend support to this through the Biblical statement ‘…he that is hanged is the accursed of God.’ [13] If however he survived the crucifixion, it would mean he overcame the evil schemes of the conspirators and did not die an ‘accursed’ death. 

Who Witnessed Jesus (as) Die?

When it comes to determining whether or not anyone witnessed the actual death of Jesus (as) , there are a few factors that need to be borne in mind. Firstly, the gospels mention that Mary Magdalene and some other women were present who witnessed Jesus (as) as he bowed his head down.

Secondly, three writers of the gospels state that there was darkness all over and that there was an earthquake. It is well-documented that earthquakes are often accompanied by severe dust-storms, which would have caused people to hurry back to the safety of their homes. Thus, one could be forgiven for thinking at first glance that a person in a coma has passed away, so those people being present at the site does not in any way prove that they categorically witnessed Jesus’(as) death, and it would be mere conjecture to claim so. 

Thirdly, the very disciples of Jesus (as) had already rejected and forsaken him. [14] So they too were not able to witness Jesus (as) passing from this world.

Bear in mind that not a single one of the people mentioned had the opportunity to check Jesus’ (as) pulse or verify if he was still breathing. In fact, it was Pilate again who made arrangements – contrary to the custom of leaving the body at the crucifixion site – by allowing Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Jewish council and secret follower of Jesus (as), to take his body directly from the crucifixion. With this permission, there would have been no objection from the Jewish people nor from the Romans to him taking the body. Naturally, the Jewish people would have assumed Jesus (as) had died, as too would have the Romans, as they reported him dead to Pilate. However, the only people who would truly know if he had died were Joseph of Arimathea and the Pharisee Nicodemus, regarding whom it is recorded that he brought, ‘…a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews.’ [15]

Healing Agents Applied to the Body of Jesus (as)

The tradition of embalming the dead, whereby herbs and spices are applied to the skin, was common practice in ancient Egypt. A similar practice was also found in Jewish burial tradition where spices were put on coffins or otherwise at the funerals themselves, undoubtedly with the view of removing the odour of the deceased. It was, however, unknown and against tradition for the Jewish people to apply herbs and spices directly to the skin of the bodies, so the question is – why did this happen in the case of Jesus (as) and what was the relevance of the herbs used on his wounds?

The herbs myrrh and aloe hold great significance, for they lend proof to the fact that Joseph and Nicodemus were certain that Jesus (as) was alive and was in need of medical assistance to recover from the wounds he sustained, having been placed on the cross. 

Regarding the significance of aloe it is mentioned:

‘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 75 BC).’ [16]

And with regards to the importance of myrrh:

‘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 it 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.’ [17]

Although this use of a vast amount of herbs for the body of Jesus (as) may seem strange, it was in fact a well-known practice amongst eminent physicians. Truth be told, it has been recorded in numerous books of medicine belonging to people of nearly all major religions that this treatment was actually administered to Jesus (as) for the purpose of the healing of his wounds. This has been explained by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the long-awaited Promised Messiah, in his ground-breaking book Jesus in India. He states:

‘…a medical preparation known as Marham-i-Isa or the “Ointment of Jesus” and is found recorded in hundreds of medical books. Some of these books were compiled by Christians, some by Magians or even Jews, and some by Muslims. Most of them are old classics. Investigations show that in the beginning, based on oral tradition, the preparation came to be known by hundreds of thousands of people. Later it was duly recorded. In the days of Jesus, shortly after the crucifixion, a pharmacopoeia was compiled in Latin, which recorded this prescription and testified that it had been prepared for the treatment of the wounds of Jesus.’ [18]

He then goes on to mention a number of books in which there is mention of the ointment of Jesus (as) such as the famous Qanun Ibn Sina, or The Canon of Medicine of Avicenna, to highlight just how well-known a fact it was. The Promised Messiah (as) writes: 

‘These books contained the prescription of the “Ointment of Jesus” as well as the explanation that this ointment was prepared for Jesus by his disciples. In the context of religion, those people – Jews, Christians, Muslims and Magians – were all opposed to one another. Therefore, the fact that they have mentioned this ointment in their books, regardless of their respective beliefs, proves beyond any doubt that the preparation of the ointment was too well-known a fact to be denied by any community or nation.’ [19]

It is evident therefore that Joseph and Nicodemus were not there to prepare the body of Jesus (as) for burial, for the only logical explanation for the requirement of such a large quantity of aloe and myrrh – the properties of which have been established to be medicinal and to treat wounds – is that Jesus (as) was still alive and in need of medical assistance to help him recover as quickly as possible. 

A Revival or Survival? 

As we come towards the end of the series of events that took place in Jerusalem, there is the matter of the reappearance of Jesus (as) post-crucifixion. The Christian belief is that Jesus (as) was resurrected after three days, having died on the cross. The Bible describes how some of his followers spotted him a short distance away from Jerusalem but failed to recognise him, as he was in disguise. He then appeared to his eleven disciples, but it was as though they were beholding a ghost. In order to prove he was the same man, Jesus (as) showed them the scars he sustained from the attempted crucifixion. In Luke we read: 

‘…Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.’ [20]

A few points are worthy to note from this entire incident. Firstly, Jesus (as) emerged with the same body which was placed on the cross, bearing the same marks and wounds. Had this not been the case, one would have no argument to believe that he did not die from the crucifixion. Secondly, whilst expressing his need to eat, Jesus (as) proved the body he possessed was very much human and subject to the same needs as the body he possessed prior to the crucifixion. And thirdly, having emerged from the tomb, Jesus (as) is seen only by the trusted ones close to him, not by the general public or the Pharisees. So from the Biblical account, one can gather that he was moving away from the danger of being seized once again, and instead preferred to remain hidden. This was actually a wonderful opportunity for Jesus (as) to appear once more before the Jewish people and the Romans to prove that he had been given a new life, that they could not stand against him, and that he truly was the son of God. How then could they have rejected such a magnificent sign of his truthfulness? But the reality is that he travelled away from Judea, as though he were fearful for his life. 

All of this put together presents a strong case of a mortal who was susceptible to harm and even death. His reappearance in no way proved his revival from the dead, it only served as a proof of his survival from the grasp of death. Furthermore, as one analyses the turn of events in Jerusalem surrounding the life of Jesus (as) from the beginning of his ministry to after the crucifixion, one can begin to understand that Jesus (as) was saved from the accursed death upon the cross. And with this understanding in mind, a path is paved to the real possibility that Jesus(as) may well have continued his quest in search of the lost sheep of Israel – and found them.

About the Author: Ahmad Nooruddeen Jahangeer Khan is an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and serves as deputy of the Christianity section of The Review of Religions.


Endnotes

1. The Bible, Matthew 12:38-39.

2. The Bible, Matthew 26:39.

3. The Bible, Matthew 21:22.

4. The Bible, Matthew 27:19.

5. The Bible, Matthew 27:24.

6. The Bible, Mark 15:16-18.

7. The Bible, Matthew 27:45.

8. The New Bible Dictionary (1962 Edition), Intervarsity Press, p. 282.

9. The Bible, John 19:32.

10. The Bible, Mark 15:44

11. The Bible, Mark 15:33-34.

12. The Bible, John 19:34.

13. The Bible, Deuteronomy 21:23

14. The Bible, Mark 14:50.

15. The Bible, John 19:39-40.

16. www.aloe-spectrum.com/body_aloes.html — Aristotle’s view on aloe

17.https://www.reviewofreligions.org/6143/the-crucifixion-of-jesus-christas-an-alternative-reading-of-the-four-gospels/

18. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam AhmadasJesus in India (Qadian, India: Islam International Publications Ltd., 2016), 65.

19. Ibid, 73.

20. The Bible, Luke 24:36-43.