The shock, says Zugibe, can be traced back to Gethsemane, when Jesus experienced the perspiration of blood, an actual medical phenomenon technically known as “hematidrosis.”
“I found over a hundred cases of hematidrosis, and believe it or not, the common denominator was fear,” he says. “There were actual cases: fear on the way to the gallows, on the way to the guillotine, or a sea captain who was in a violent storm and thought he was going to die. There was also a girl during the blitz in England. Every time the blitz came, she perspired blood! They tried everything to stop it and couldn’t. It went on until the war was over and the rockets stopped. Fear was the common denominator.”
Dr. Zugibe says the loss of blood from hematidrosis was then coupled with the horror of scourging, which along with standard bloodshed causes severe fluid accumulation around the outside of the lungs over a period of two to three hours. “When there are any kind of beatings around the chest area, there may be lung collapse, but the whole point is that a major aspect of scourging is pleural effusion: fluid build up, and fluid that you also count as lost.”
The scourging could also have caused rib fracture and severe hemorrhaging into the body wall, notes the medical examiner. How many times was Jesus scourged? Zugibe notes that there are over a hundred scourge marks on the Shroud of Turin, which he has personally studied. “Since there are thought to have been three leather thongs with bits of metal or bone on each flagrum [or whip], that means there were not more than 39 actual lashes,” says Zugibe. “In Deuteronomy the prescription was ‘forty less one’ when it came to scourging. But because each flagrum had three thongs, you take three times 39 and it would be over a hundred marks.”
“Then you take the crowing with thorns,” adds the medical examiner. "People think that was just a parody, a mockery, of His kingship, and yes, that was part of it. But the effect of the crowning of thorns was far beyond that. More than mockery, it was another infliction of severe pain that added to the shock.
“What happens is that if you analyze a plant like the vizziphus spina christii or ‘Christ thorn’ plant, which may have been used, that would cause a condition called ‘trigeminal neuralgia,’” says the anatomical expert. "I’ve seen many cases of it, and it’s a very severe pain that goes across the face. If you take a little twig of the trigeminal nerve that goes into the tooth and it becomes irritated, you get a toothache. So you have an idea of the sensitivity.
"Now take the whole branch of the nerve – which goes across the face and head area, by the eyes – and it’s a triple branching that would be irritated.
"The pain is so severe that some people have actually committed suicide.
"It may stop, and then a whisp of wind will bring back the pain.
“It is very agonizing and all these things add to the traumatic shock.”
Then there was the falling down and getting up and the additional beatings. Dr. Zugibe asserts that under such shock, Jesus could not have carried the entire cross, but only the cross beam, which he estimates to have weighed fifty pounds. When Jesus fell, that weight added to the shock. Factor in the beating sun on the road to Calvary – which was about three quarters of a mile – and lack of drink or nourishment (He had not eaten since the Last Supper), and it all adds up to more than any human (and Christ was in human form) could take.
Once on the cross, notes Dr. Zugibe, the nails would have affected the median nerves in Jesus’ Hands, causing yet another horrid pain called “causalgia.” The pains from that are so severe, says the doctor, that when it has occurred in wartime, even morphine has not been able to take it away. “It’s one of the worst pains people have ever experienced,” he says. “They actually have to cut the nerve at the spinal column, in order to stop the pain.”
The shock was thus cumulative: one excruciation after another. So was the crucial loss of fluids. On the Cross, Jesus experienced yet more loss of blood and dehydration. “If I drew the death certificate today,” says Zugibe, “I would say that He died of that hypovolemic and traumatic shock due to crucifixion. The scourging caused Him to die as soon as He did because of the extent of the shock,” he adds.
[see also: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ
and Dr. Zugibe’s website] e-forensicmedicine.net/