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cruci-fact or cruci-fiction ?

Before we even get as far as considering a resurrection, let's get ourselves in the right order. First things first, was there a crucifiction and did Jesus die? These questions are of great importance, since claims of resurrection are less impressive in the absence of an actual death which precedes it.

Clearly the principal evidence for death on a cross are the "usual suspects" Matthew, Mark, Luke, John & Paul. However, certain folk of a cynical bent cry: "But all those guys were Christians! Of course they would say that, wouldn't they?" These early Church leaders may have had a lot of cross-shaped merchandise to shift, or some such! So, let's look elsewhere..

One of the special effects which accompanied the crucifiction was a period of unnatural darkness. This was confirmed by the Samaritan-born pagan historian Thallus. His works have now been lost, but they were quoted by a Christian writer, Julius Africanus in about 221 AD, while discussing the crucifiction darkness:

"Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun -- unreasonably as it seems to me."

The crucifiction took place at Passover, which is always on a full moon, during which a solar eclipse is impossible. Thallus' third book of histories covered the period to his present day, i.e. 52 AD, a mere 19 years after the event itself. Another first century historian, Phlegon also mentioned a solar eclipse during a full moon during Tiberius Caesar's reign. This is referred to by both Africanus and Philopon.

Roman Historian Tacitus also made mention of the crucifiction, writing in AD 112.

".. people called 'Christians', hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate."
Tacitus, Annals 15.44

Other Historical References to the Crucifiction

I would suggest that there is a fairly consistent tradition of the crucifiction of Jesus, common to all the "interest groups" (Christian, Jew, Roman) from a very early date. From this is is not unreasonable to suppose that Jesus was indeed crucified.

Of course, it is then important also to establish whether or not Jesus actually died as a result of the crucifiction. Believe it or not, many skeptics still raise this as an issue, and (very loosely) based on these, I have prepared a Guide to Surviving Crucifiction. I do hope you never need it.

The main objections raised tend to be along the following lines:

3 Reasons I Think Jesus' Crucifiction was Fatal

  • Crucifiction is generally recognised to be a lethal procedure.
  • The Romans were ruthlessly efficient in dispensing death. There is no good reason to suppose that they failed in this case.
  • The gospels reveal that Jesus' side was pierced and "blood and water" poured out (Ugh!). This clearly indicates that Jesus' blood had separated into plasma (which is 90% water) and the red, sticky remainder, which demonstrates that Jesus' heart had stopped pumping for some time. Which suggests he was dead at the time.

See Article by Edwards et al (1986), Journal of American Medical Association


And if Jesus is really dead, we're going to need somewhere to stash his corpse, right?

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Top Ten Famous Folk Executed by the State

1. Socrates
2. Jesus Christ
3. Almost all his Apostles
4. William Wallace
5. Sir Thomas More
6. Guy Fawkes
7. Sir Walter Raleigh
8. Bluebeard the Pirate
9. Mata Hari
10. Joe Hill