Easton's Bible Dictionary
A common mode of punishment among heathen nations in
early times. It is not certain whether it was known among the ancient Jews; probably
it was not. The modes of capital punishment according to the Mosaic law were,
by the sword ( Exodus 21 ), strangling, fire ( Leviticus 20 ), and stoning ( Deuteronomy
21 ). This was regarded as the most horrible form of death, and to a Jew it would
acquire greater horror from the curse in Deuteronomy 21:23 .
This punishment began by subjecting the sufferer to scourging. In the case of
our Lord, however, his scourging was rather before the sentence was passed upon
him, and was inflicted by Pilate for the purpose, probably, of exciting pity and
procuring his escape from further punishment ( Luke 23:22 ; John 19:1 ).
The condemned one carried his own cross to the place of execution, which was outside
the city, in some conspicuous place set apart for the purpose. Before the nailing
to the cross took place, a medicated cup of vinegar mixed with gall and myrrh
(the sopor) was given, for the purpose of deadening the pangs of the sufferer.
Our Lord refused this cup, that his senses might be clear ( Matthew 27:34 ). The
spongeful of vinegar, sour wine, posca, the common drink of the Roman soldiers,
which was put on a hyssop stalk and offered to our Lord in contemptuous pity (
Matthew 27:48 ; Luke 23:36 ), he tasted to allay the agonies of his thirst ( John
19:29 ). The accounts given of the crucifixion of our Lord are in entire agreement
with the customs and practices of the Roman in such cases. He was crucified between
two "malefactors" ( Isaiah 53:12 ; Luke 23:32 ), and was watched by a party of
four soldiers ( John 19:23 ; Matthew 27:36 , 27:54 ), with their centurion. The
"breaking of the legs" of the malefactors was intended to hasten death, and put
them out of misery ( John 19:31 ); but the unusual rapidity of our Lord's death
( John 19:33 ) was due to his previous sufferings and his great mental anguish.
The omission of the breaking of his legs was the fulfilment of a type ( Exodus
12:46 ). He literally died of a broken heart, a ruptured heart, and hence the
flowing of blood and water from the wound made by the soldier's spear ( John 19:34
). Our Lord uttered seven memorable words from the cross, namely,
|(1) Luke 23:34 ( Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. );
(2) Luke 23:43 ( Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.
(3) John 19:26 ( Woman, behold thy son! );
(4) Matthew 27:46 , Mark 15:34 ( Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? (My God, my God,
why hast thou forsaken me?) );
(5) John 19:28 ( I thirst );
(6) John 19:30 ( It is finished );
(7) Luke 23:46 ( Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit ).
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
was in used among the Egyptians, ( Genesis 40:19 ) the
Carthaginians, the Persians, ( Esther 7:10 ) the Assyrians, Scythains, Indians,
Germans, and from the earliest times among the Greeks and Romans. Whether this
mode of execution was known to the ancient Jews is a matter of dispute. Probably
the Jews borrowed it from the Romans. It was unanimously considered the most horrible
form of death. Among the Romans the degradation was also a part of the infliction,
and the punishment if applied to freemen was only used in the case of the vilest
The one to be crucified was stripped naked of all his clothes, and then followed
the most awful moment of all. He was laid down upon the implement of torture.
His arms were stretched along the cross-beams, and at the centre of the open palms
the point of a huge iron nail was placed, which, by the blow of a mallet, was
driven home into the wood. Then through either foot separately, or possibly through
both together, as they were placed one over the other, another huge nail tore
its way through the quivering flesh. Whether the sufferer was also bound to the
cross we do not know; but, to prevent the hands and feet being torn away by the
weight of the body, which could not "rest upon nothing but four great wounds,"
there was, about the centre of the cross, a wooden projection strong enough to
support, at least in part, a human body, which soon became a weight of agony.
Then the "accursed tree" with its living human burden was slowly heaved up and
the end fixed firmly in a hole in the ground. The feet were but a little raised
above the earth. The victim was in full reach of every hand that might choose
A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the
horrible and ghastly, --dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic
fever, tetanus, publicity of shame, long continuance of torment, horror of anticipation,
mortification of untended wounds, all intensified just up to the point at which
they can be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would
give to the sufferer the relief of unconsciousness. The unnatural position made
every movement painful; the lacerated veins and crushed tendons throbbed with
incessant anguish; the wounds, inflamed by exposure, gradually gangrened; the
arteries, especially of the head and stomach, became swollen and oppressed with
surcharged blood; and, while each variety of misery went on gradually increasing,
there was added to them the intolerable pang of a burning and raging thirst. Such
was the death to which Christ was doomed. --Farrars "Life of Christ. "
The crucified was watched, according to custom, by a party of four soldiers, (
John 19:23 ) with their centurion, ( Matthew 27:66 ) whose express office was
to prevent the stealing of the body. This was necessary from the lingering character
of the death, which sometimes did not supervene even for three days, and was at
last the result of gradual benumbing and starvation. But for this guard, the persons
might have been taken down and recovered, as was actually done in the case of
a friend of Josephus. Fracture of the legs was especially adopted by the Jews
to hasten death. ( John 19:31 ) In most cases the body was suffered to rot on
the cross by the action of sun and rain, or to be devoured by birds and beasts.
Sepulture was generally therefore forbidden; but in consequence of ( Deuteronomy
21:22 , 21:23 ) an express national exception was made in favor of the Jews. (
Matthew 27:58 ) This accursed and awful mode of punishment was happily abolished
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
See CROSS; PUNISHMENTS.
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