A Bit More History Regarding Crucifixion

The following excerpt is a good historical summary of “crucifixion found on another church’s website. You can visit the whole article here. While, it is far from an academic document with regard to citing it’s sources, it matches what I’ve read in such papers and the list of references at the end of the document provides credibility. There is so much junk on the web these days, you’re almost always better reading Wikipedia than an “Christian” website which cites no historical or academic sources. In this case, the Wikipedia article on crucifixion is well researched, but I wanted you to hear the point that Crucifixion is intentionally humiliating, shameful, and excruciating (a word specifically invented to describe the pain of the cross). Why read this, well Hebrews 12:2-3 says, fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

We moderns still recoil with horror when we hear of Christ’s crucifixion. But what did the ancients think of crucifixion? They considered it to be the most shameful, the most painful, and the most abhorrent of all executions. The Roman statesman Cicero called it “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Verrem 2:5.165) and “the most extreme penalty” (Verrem 2:5.168). The Jewish historian Josephus, who certainly witnessed enough crucifixions himself, called it “the most wretched of deaths.” The Roman jurist Julius Paulus listed crucifixion in first place as the worst of all capital punishments, listing it ahead of death by burning, death by beheading, or death by the wild beasts. And from Seneca we have this quotation, which is one of the most unique descriptions of a crucifixion in non-Biblical literature:

  • Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man by found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly wounds on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross (Dialogue 3:2.2).

The ancients considered death by crucifixion to be not just any execution, but the most obscene, the most disgraceful, the most horrific execution known to man.

How common was crucifixion in the ancient world? Quite common, at least among the Romans. Though Roman law usually spared Roman citizens from being crucified, they used crucifixion especially against rebellious foreigners, military enemies, violent criminals, robbers, and slaves. In fact slaves were so routinely crucified that crucifixion become known as the “slaves’ punishment” (servile supplicium; see Valerius Maximus 2:7.12). Appian tells us that when the slave rebellion of Spartacus was crushed, the Roman general Crassus had six thousand of the slave prisoners crucified along a stretch of the Appian Way, the main road leading into Rome (Bella Civilia 1:120). As an example of crucifying rebellious foreigners, Josephus tells us that when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Roman general Titus, at one point, crucified five hundred or more Jews a day. In fact, so many Jews were crucified outside of the walls that “there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies” (Wars of the Jews 5:11.1).

Posted in Pastor Andrew's Blog and tagged , , , , , .

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *