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Defending the Christian Worldview, Creationism, and Intelligent Design » Bible / Christian faith / Apologetics » Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ

Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ

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Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ

Christians commemorate Good Friday and Easter, the yearly events of Jesus’ death (the Day of Crucifixion) and resurrection. All of us understand that this occurred in Jerusalem in the 1st century. That separates Jesus from mythological pagan gods, who were expected to reside in areas or times that none can define. Exactly how certain can we be with the death of Jesus? Can we figure out the precise day? With some mathematical and scientific evidence for the day of crucifixion, we can.

Here’s how …

Key # 1: The High Priesthood of Caiaphas
The gospels suggest that Jesus was crucified at the instigation of the 1st century high priest called Caiaphas (Matthew 26:3 -4, John 11:49 -53).
We understand from other sources that he functioned as high priest from A.D. 18 to 36, so that puts Jesus’ death during that timespan.
However we can get more certain with scientific evidence for the day of crucifixion. A lot more.

Key # 2: The Governorship of Pontius Pilate
All 4 gospels concur that Jesus was crucified on the orders of Pontius Pilate (Matthew 27:24 -26, Mark 15:15, Luke 23:24, John 19:15 -16).
We understand from other sources when he functioned as governor of Judea – A.D. 26 to A.D. 36 – so we can narrow the time span by a number of years.
However how are we going to get it down to a precise day and year?

Key # 3: After “the Fifteenth Year of Tiberius Caesar”
The Gospel of Luke informs us when the ministry of John the Baptist started:
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar … the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness [Luke 3 -2]
This identifies a particular year: A.D. 29.
Considering that all 4 gospels portray the ministry of Christ starting after that of John the Baptist had actually kicked off (Matthew 3, Mark 1, Luke 3, John 1), this indicates that we can shave a couple of more years off our time span. The death of Christ needed to remain in a range of 7 years: in between A.D. 29 and 36.

Key # 4: Crucified on a Friday
All 4 gospels concur that Jesus was crucified on a Friday (Matt. 27:62, Mark 15:42; Luke23:54; John 19:42), right before a Sabbath, which was right before the 1st day of the week (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, John 20:1). We understand that it was a Friday due to the fact that it is described as “the day of preparation”– that is, the day on which Jews made the preparations they required for the Sabbath, given that they might refrain from doing any work on that day. Therefore they prepared food ahead of time and made other needed preparations. That gets rid of 6 of the days of the week, however there were still many Fridays in between A.D. 29 and 36.
Can we find out which one? Again, with more scientific evidence for the day of crucifixion, we definitely can!

Key # 5: A Friday at Passover
The gospels likewise concur that Jesus was crucified in conjunction with the yearly feast of Passover (Matthew 26:2, Mark 14:1, Luke 22:1, John 18:39).
Here we come across a small problem, due to the fact that Matthew, Mark, and Luke talk about the Last Supper on Holy Thursday as a Passover meal (Matthew 26:19, Mark 14:14, Luke 22:15). That would indicate that Good Friday was the day after Passover. Nevertheless, when explaining the early morning of Good Friday, John reveals that the Jewish authorities had actually not yet consumed the Passover meal:
Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the Praetorium [i.e., Pilate’s palace] It was early. They themselves did not enter the Praetorium, so that they might not be defiled, but might eat the passover. So Pilate went out to them [John 18:28 -29 That proposes that the Passover would have started on sundown Friday. Referring to John’s declaration about Jesus’ captors as an indicator of what the Jewish authorities or the mainstream Jewish practice was: They were commemorating a Passover that started on what we would call Friday night. That lets us shorten the range of possible dates to simply a handful. Here is a total list of the days around A.D. 29 and 36 on whose evenings Passover started:.

Monday, April 18, A.D. 29.
Friday, April 7, A.D. 30.
Tuesday, March 27, A.D. 31.
Monday, April 14, A.D. 32.
Friday, April 3, A.D. 33.
Wednesday, March 24, A.D. 34.
Tuesday, April 12, A.D. 35.
Saturday, March 31, A.D. 36.

As you can see, we have simply 2 prospects left: Jesus was either crucified on April 7 of A.D. 30 or April 3 of A.D. 33 Which was it? The conventional date is that of A.D. 33. You will discover quite a variety of individuals today promoting the A.D. 30 date. Do the gospels let us choose among the two?

Key # 6: John’s Three Passovers.
The Gospel of John records 3 various Passovers throughout the ministry of Jesus:

Passover # 1: This is captured in John 2:13, near the start of Jesus’ ministry.
Passover # 2: This is captured in John 6:4, in the middle of Jesus’ ministry.
Passover # 3: This is captured in John 11:55 (and often talked about later on), at the end of Jesus’ ministry.

That suggests that the ministry of Jesus needed to cover something over 2 years. A fuller treatment would uncover that it stretched over about 3 and a half years. However, even if we presume it started right away prior to Passover # 1, the addition of 2 more Passovers reveals that it lasted more than 2 years at a bare minimum. That suggests the A.D. 30 date is out. There are insufficient time anywhere between the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar– A.D. 29– and the next year’s Passover to accommodate a ministry of at minimum 2 years. The numbers do not add up. As a result, the conventional date of Jesus’ death– Friday, April 3, A.D. 33– need to be considered as the proper one. Can we be a lot more accurate with scientific evidence for the day of crucifixion?

Key # 7: “The Ninth Hour”.
Matthew, Mark, and Luke each record that Jesus passed away about “the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45 -50, Mark 15:34 -37, Luke 23:44 -46). “The ninth hour” is what we, today, would come to know as 3:00 p.m This enables us to shorten the time of Jesus’ death to a remarkably precise point in history: around 3:00 p.m on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33. On a final note, even the stars in heaven point exactly to the date that we have concluded here. It is highly suggested that you also view our Prophetic Evidence For The Star Of Bethlehem and have zero doubt as to the 3:00 p.m on Friday, April 3, A.D. 33 date!!

Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ Scientific-evidence-for-the-day-of-crucifixion-2
Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ Scient10

Christ’s Crucifixion date

 One significant date used to establish Peter’s travels includes the timing attributed to Christ’s crucifixion. The best method to determine when the Romans crucified Christ requires the process of elimination. Humphreys and Waddington summarize the three main components to use to establish the correct date regarding Christ’s crucifixion:
There are three main pieces of biblical evidence for dating the Crucifixion: 

(i) Jesus was crucified when Pontius Pilate was procurator of Judea during AD 26–36 (all four Gospels; also Tacitus, Ann. 15:44). 
(ii) All four Gospels agree that Jesus died a few hours before the commencement of the Jewish Sabbath, that is, he died before nightfall on a Friday. In addition, the earliest writings that explicitly state the date of the Crucifixion all have it as a Friday. 
(iii) All four Gospels agree to within about a day . . . that the Crucifixion was at the time of Passover.

Christ’s crucifixion took place on a Friday afternoon, between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36, and on or near Passover.  The following details utilize this and other previous research to verify the exact date for Christ’s crucifixion.
Exodus 12:6 fixed Nisan 14 as the Passover date. They killed a lamb each Nisan 14 “in the evening” (Ex 12:1–Cool. They measured a day from evening to morning, but that practiced changed to a morning reckoning.  This evening reckoning or morning reckoning calculation permits Passover to fall either on Nisan 14 or Nisan 15. Between A.D. 26 and A.D. 36 only A.D. 27, 30, 33, and 34 place Nisan 14 or 15 on a Friday. The first step to determining which date the Scriptures state as the crucifixion Passover requires a simple reason that eliminates A.D. 27. John the Baptist’s ministry began in Tiberius Caesar’s fifteenth year, or A.D. 29. Christ’s crucifixion occurred after his ministry began in A.D. 29, thereby eliminating A.D. 27.
The second step means eliminating A.D. 34 as a possibility. This requires eliminating Nisan 15 as an option. The reason scholars entertain Nisan 15 relates to which weekday Christ celebrated the last supper. The Synoptic Gospels state that Christ celebrated the last supper as a Passover meal, so it took place on Thursday, Nisan 14, which places Christ’s crucifixion on Friday, Nisan 15. John, however, never calls the last supper a Passover meal, so it took place on Thursday, Nisan 13, which places Christ’s crucifixion on Friday, Nisan  14.  The solution to this dilemma requires examining how the Jews measured their days.

Passover could be reckoned from sunset to sunset or sunrise to sunrise. . . . Josephus   . . . seems to indicate a sunrise to sunrise reckoning. The Mishnah states that the Passover lamb must be eaten by midnight which would seem to indicate that the new day began . . . at sunrise. . . . Since there were two systems of reckoning the day . . . this would be a solution to the disagreement between the synoptics and John. . . . The Galileans and Pharisees used the sunrise to sunrise reckoning whereas the Judeans and Sadducees used the sunset to sunset reckoning. Thus, according to the synoptics, the Last Supper was a Passover meal. Since the day is to be reckoned from sunrise, the Galileans, and with them Jesus and His disciples, had the Paschal lamb slaughtered in the late afternoon of Thursday, Nisan 14, and later that evening they ate the Passover with the unleavened bread. On the other hand, the Judean Jews who reckoned from sunset to sunset would slay the lamb on Friday afternoon which marked the end of Nisan 14 and ate the Passover lamb with the unleavened bread that night which had become Nisan 15. Thus, Jesus had consumed the Passover meal when His enemies, who had not as yet had the Passover, arrested Him. This gives good sense to John 18:28 that the Jews did not want to enter the Praetorium so as not to be defiled since later that day they would slay the victims for those who reckoned from sunset to sunset. After Jesus’ trial, He was crucified when the Paschal lambs were slain in the temple precincts. This fits well with the Gospel of John. . . . This solution would mean that there were two days of slaughter. This would solve the problem of having to slaughter all of the lambs for all of those participants at the Passover season. . . . Although one cannot be overly dogmatic, it does fit well with the data at hand. It is simple and makes good sense.

This eliminates Nisan 15 and thereby A.D. 34 as a possible crucifixion date, reducing the options to A.D. 30 and A.D. 33.

The third step requires eliminating A.D. 30. Christ’s ministry began, as stated previously, between his baptism in the summer or fall A.D. 29 and his first ministry Passover in A.D. 30. Jesus celebrated Passover at least three times during his ministry (John 2:13, 23, 6:4, 11:55). Christ’s crucifixion, therefore, took place in at least A.D. 32. That leaves A.D. 33 as the only viable option to list as the crucifixion year, or as Finegan states: “According to
the foregoing analysis . . . the crucifixion of Jesus was most probably on Friday, Apr 3, A.D. 33, corresponding to Nisan 14.”

Last edited by Otangelo on Fri 12 Mar 2021 - 12:05; edited 1 time in total



Archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ

The Romans practiced crucifixion – literally, “fixed to a cross” – for nearly a thousand years. It was a public, painful, and sluggish form of execution, and used as a method to discourage future crimes and embarrass the dying person. Considering that it was done to thousands of individuals and involved nails, you’d most likely presume we have skeletal evidence of crucifixion. However there’s only one, single bony archeological evidence of Roman crucifixion!

Crucifixion appears to have actually originated in Persia, however the Romans developed the practice as we know of it today, utilizing either a crux immissa (similar to the Christian cross) or a crux commissa (a T-shaped cross) comprised of an upright post and a crossbar. Generally, the upright post was erected first, and the victim was connected or nailed to the crossbar and after that raised up. There was generally an inscription nailed above the victim, noting his specific criminal offense, and in some cases victims got a wooden support to sit or stand on.

The only previously discovered archaeological evidence comes from a 1968 Jerusalem excavation performed by Vassilios Tzaferis of tombs from a huge Second Temple Jewish cemetery (2nd century BCE to 70 CE) in the Giv’ at HaMivtar area. Inside a typical rock-hewn tomb of the era, Tzaferis found, among other items, a number of bone receptacles. Inside one ossuary lay the bones from 2 generations of males, one 20-24 year old, and the other a mere 3 or 4 year old.

On the heel bone of the older male was discerned an 18 cm (7-inch) nail, upon which was discovered some 1-2 cm of olive wood– remnants of the cross from which he was hung, researchers concluded. Upon publication, the world heralded this unique evidence of the historicity of crucifixion.

When nails were involved, they were long and square (about 15cm long and 1cm thick) and were driven into the victim’s wrists or lower arms to fix him to the crossbar. Once the crossbar remained in place, the feet might be nailed to either side of the upright or crossed. In the first case, nails would have been driven through the heel bones, and in the 2nd case, one nail would have been hammered through the metatarsals in the middle of the foot. To hasten death, the victim often had his legs broken (crurifragium); the resulting compound fracture of the shin bones might have resulted in hemorrhage and fat embolisms, not to mention substantial pain, triggering earlier death.

Like death by guillotine in early contemporary times, crucifixion was a public act, but unlike the speedy action of the guillotine, crucifixion involved a long and painful – literally, excruciating – death. The Roman orator Cicero documented that “of all punishments, it is the most cruel and most terrifying,” and Jewish historian Josephus called it “the most wretched of deaths.”

So crucifixion was both a deterrent of further crimes and a humiliation of the dying person, who had to spend the last days of his life naked, in full view of any passersby, up until he passed away of dehydration, asphyxiation, infection, or other causes.

Since the Romans crucified individuals from at least the 3rd century BC up until the emperor Constantine banned the practice in 337 AD out of respect for Jesus and the cross’ powerful symbolism for Christianity, it would follow that archaeological evidence of crucifixion would have been discovered all over the Empire.

And yet only one bioarchaeological example of crucifixion has actually ever been discovered.

How Jesus died: Extremely rare evidence of Roman crucifixion uncovered in Italy

A lesion on the foot of a 2,000-year-old skeleton discovered in a Roman burial site in northern Italy appears to constitute rare tangible evidence of execution by crucifixion, according to an interdisciplinary team of Italian researchers.

Although broadly attested to in historical writings — including the New Testament — it is only the second known archaeological proof of the particularly cruel form of capital punishment practiced by the Romans against criminals, as well as revolutionaries such as Jesus.

The findings — published in the April 2018 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences under the title “A multidisciplinary study of calcaneal trauma in Roman Italy: a possible case of crucifixion?” — are based on new analysis of a skeleton that was discovered in 2007 during a salvage excavation of an isolated tomb.

“In the specific case, despite the poorly preserved conditions, we could demonstrate the presence of signs on the skeleton that indicate a violence similar to crucifixion,” co-author Emanuela Gualdi from the University of Ferrara told the Italian-language paper Estense.

“The importance of the discovery lies in the fact that it is the second case documented in the world,” co-author Ursula Thun Hohenstein told Estense.

“Although this brutal type of execution has been perfected and practiced for a long time by the Romans, the difficulties in preserving damaged bones and, subsequently, in interpreting traumas, hinder the recognition of crucifixion victims, making this testimony even more precious,” Thun Hohenstein said.

The only previously discovered archaeological evidence comes from a 1968 Jerusalem excavation performed by Vassilios Tzaferis of tombs from a massive Second Temple Jewish cemetery (2nd century BCE to 70 CE) in the Giv’at HaMivtar neighborhood. Inside a typical rock-hewn tomb of the era, Tzaferis discovered, among other items, several bone receptacles. Inside one ossuary lay the bones from two generations of males, one 20-24 year old, and the other a mere 3 or 4.

Scientific Evidence For The Day Of Crucifixion, and archeological Evidence For The Crucifixion Of Jesus Christ Heel-bone-and-nail-from-the-ossuary-of-%E2%80%98Yehohanan-son-of-Hagkol%E2%80%9D-Jerusalem-1st-century-CE-1024x640

On the heel bone of the older male was discerned a 18 cm (7-inch) nail, upon which was found some 1-2 cm of olive wood — remnants of the cross from which he was hung, researchers concluded. Upon publication, the world heralded this unique proof of the historicity of crucifixion.

According to a 1985 Biblical Archaeology Review article written by Tzaferis titled, “Crucifixion — The Archaeological Evidence,” the Romans were not the creative force behind this painfully punishing form of death.

“Many people erroneously assume that crucifixion was a Roman invention. In fact, Assyrians, Phoenicians and Persians all practiced crucifixion during the first millennium BCE,” wrote Tzaferis.

These newly analyzed Italian remains of the 30- to 34-year-old crucified male are not as entirely unambiguous, however. Their interpretation is complicated by the poor preservation of the bone surfaces. Radiocarbon dating was not possible, but the remains were dated to the Roman era due to their context: archaeologists discovered fragments of typical Roman bricks and tiles.

According to the authors, the skeleton was uncovered during a 2006-2007 infrastructure operation in northern Italy’s Gavello municipality, found about 60 km from Venice in the Po Valley. The individual was found lying on his back, “with the upper limbs at his side and the lower limbs outstretched.” It was, strangely for the time period, buried directly in the ground and without grave goods.

Upon closer examination of the bones, researchers noted “particular lesions” on the right heel.

“To better understand the trauma, we analyzed this bone in detail to determine the time of occurrence and to give an interpretation,” they write. The interdisciplinary team decided to use anthropological and genetic methods to create a “biological profile of the individual.”

Through studying the bones and archaeological data, including the skeleton’s burial context, the researchers believe they were able to more deeply understand the “social role of the victim and the violence pattern in past populations.”

“The results provide evidence of a possible brutal mode of death,” they write.

On the trail of an execution
Initially, the skeleton was given to the University of Ferrara for anthropological analyses, write the researchers. Later, at the University of Siena, 3D images of the hole in the heel were generated with a sophisticated hi-tech digital microscope. Additionally, at the University of Florence’s Molecular Anthropology laboratory, exclusively dedicated to ancient DNA analysis, three pieces from the vertebrae were chosen for genetic analysis.

Evidence of a potential crucifixion is found only on the right heel. The researchers write that they observed a lesion that passed through the “entire width” of the heel bone, penetrating under a horizontal shelf-like portion in the mid-back section of the heel.

‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross,’ by Salvador Dalí, 1951. (public domain)
“The perforation (length 24 mm) shows a regular round hole passing from the medial side (diameter 9 mm) to the lateral one (diameter 6.5 mm). The pattern of the cross-sectional lesion is linear in the first part, turning slightly downward in the last part,” they write.

“The presence of an ellipsoidal depressed fracture on the medial side, but not on the lateral, suggests that the injury was inflicted peri-mortem and the blow was inflicted from medial to lateral, causing a breakthrough in the impact area (entry point),” they conclude.

In other words, the heel was potentially nailed to a hard surface prior to the death of the victim.

The authors are the first to admit that on the face of it, the findings are not entirely conclusive. With only one other example of crucifixion for comparison, it is difficult to understand what are normative practices.

“The position, section and direction of the perforation are only partly consistent with the other case of crucifixion described previously. We observed a circular hole in the Gavello calcaneus unlike that from Giv’at HaMivtar in which a nail with a square section was used. Although the latter type of nail was more frequent in Roman times, nails with a circular section were also used, as reported in the literature,” they write.

The researchers hypothesize that “the upper limbs were fixed to the cross by nails through the wrist, as per ancient historical sources.” However, here again, the paucity of proof means the arms could just as easily have been tied to the cross, as is thought to possibly be the case in the Jerusalem example.

Social reject?
Based on archaeological and anthropological data, the researchers also draw potential conclusions about the victim. They note that in the Roman world, crucifixion was historically meted out to marginalized populations: slaves (even after their freedom), revolutionaries, foreigners, criminals and other non-Roman citizens, with the exception of soldiers who deserted.

“The irregular burial context, lack of grave goods, short adult stature and possible evidence of torture (Martin and Harrod 2015) suggest a condition of captivity or slavery for the Gavello individual,” they write.

The lone, sole burial in particular gave the researchers pause.

“Isolation of the burial site, as at Gavello, may have been a consequence of the community’s refusal of the individual in death as in life,” they write.

“This kind of execution,” co-author Thun Hohenstein told Estense, “was generally reserved for slaves. The same topographical marginalization of the burial induces us to think that it was an individual considered dangerous and neglected by the society in which he lived that he was rejected by it even after death.”

A multidisciplinary study of calcaneal trauma in Roman Italy: a possible case of crucifixion?
Crucifixion is a cruel method of execution. This capital punishment was perfected during the Roman Empire. Despite being a frequent practice, there is only one well-documented anthropological case of crucifixion in the world at the Jerusalem burial cave (Giv’at ha-Mivtar, first century AD). We found a particular lesion on the foot of a skeleton from an isolated Roman burial discovered by excavation in 2007 in northern Italy.

Crucifixion was a brutal form of execution practiced for almost a thousand years (Retief and Cilliers 2003). The Romans learnt the crucifixion procedure from the Carthaginians and used it until it was abolished by Constantine the first (fourth century AD). The Romans perfected crucifixion as a form of torture to produce a slow death with maximal pain. The method preferred by the Romans did not involve tying the condemned person to the beam, but rather the use of nails. This is reported by Latin writers and by a Roman inscription indicating the legal rules to crucify delinquent slaves with the use of ropes to whip them and nails to attach them to the cross. Before the victim was hung from a cross until he died, he had to be scourged with wooden staves or a short whip (flagrum or flagellum). The cross consisted of an upright post (stipes) and a horizontal crossbar (patibulum). After the condemned man had carried the patibulum on his shoulders to the site of crucifixion, his arms were fixed by iron nails driven through the wrists (as the hands could not support the body weight). At this point, the patibulum and the victim were lifted onto the stipes and the feet were nailed to the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum). Different methods were described for the last procedure: the feet could be nailed separately to the two sides of the stipes or both to the front of the stipes using a single nail. The victims usually died after a few days on the cross from various physiological causes (Tenney 1964; Maslen and Mitchell 2006). Death could be expedited in different ways: by breaking the bones of the legs below the knees (crucifragium) or by a blow to the sternal region with a club or stabbing the heart with a spear. After the victim’s death, the corpse was left on the cross to be devoured by predators, although it could be removed later for burial by the family if permission was granted. Despite the high number of crucifixions during the Roman period, crucifixion evidence has probably been overlooked by anthropologists because the nails were commonly salvaged after death and the bones with lesions were more easily fractured and destroyed. To date, the calcaneus with the nail still lodged in it from a Jerusalem burial cave (Giv’at ha-Mivtar, first century AD) represents the only case described in the international literature (Haas 1970), as another case from the Mendes harbor on the Nile was reported only indirectly. 

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