Archaeological find indicates that everything we thought we knew about crucifixion is wrong.
Crucifixion is a notorious form of execution and quite possibly one of the most excruciating and sadistic methods ever practiced by humanity. Today it is most commonly associated with Jesus Christ who is described as being executed in this manner in the New Testament. The art and literature of the period relating to the judicial system of the Roman Empire are full of references to the horrifying execution method, but there is very little archaeological evidence for modern historians to verify the actual details of what went on. This begs the question if crucifixion was so commonplace – why is there so little evidence to support it today?
A Stone Box Found Outside Of Jerusalem With A Troubling Inscription On It
There are some reasons as to why there would not be much archaeological evidence of crucifixion surviving to the present day. Firstly, the crosses were made from wood – an organic material which quickly decomposes. The nails that were used were less decomposable, but it is believed that they were scavenged for and used as amulets by the local people who believed that they had magical curative qualities. Furthermore, the people who were executed in this manner tended to have been convicted of serious crimes, and therefore they were not likely to have been afforded a dignified burial. It is likely that they were left to rot into the open area, thrown into rubbish dumps or left for wild animals to feed on.
However, not all the victims of crucifixion were abandoned in this way. In 1968, an archaeologist named Vassilios Tzaferis was working on an excavation of a collection of Jewish tombs dating back to the first century in the north east of Jerusalem. Amongst these tombs, Tzaferis found a stone box bearing the inscription or ‘Yehohanan ben Hagkol’ or ‘Yehohanan, son of the crucified one’.
When Tzaferis opened the coffin, he found that the heel bone of the man was still embedded with a thick nail, indicating that he had indeed been crucified. Beside him in the coffin was a young boy, believed to be his son. Scientific tests showed that the olive tree which is likely to have made the apparatus that he was hanged from was still present on the nail. However, the researchers found no evidence of marking on his hands.
This suggests that those people who were sentenced to death by crucifixion probably were not nailed through their hands as it is depicted in religious artwork. Instead, it is more likely that the arms were bound to the top of the horizontal beam and their heels were nailed to the cross. This theory is supported by the fact that nailing an individual’s hands in such a way as to support the weight of the entire body would be practically impossible.
There Are Some Pretty Good Reasons For Why So Little Evidence Exists
While this is only one archaeological specimen and therefore difficult to draw generalized conclusions from, the find has helped to illuminate a particularly murky piece of history and once which means a considerable amount to Christians all over the world.