The Tiny and (probably) Not-so-significant Details of the Passion of Jesus

This thread is a branch of the Minor, Trivial Stuff thread with a specific theme: the minor details of the events of the Passion of Jesus. As with the other thread, comments and contributions are welcome!

Here’s something to start up the thread (taken from the other thread):

Jesus Barabbas

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up.

Matthew 27:15-18 (ESV)

Many commentators note the irony in the name Barabbas, noting the similarity of -abbas with 'abba ‘father’, thus yielding ‘son of [the] father’. This irony becomes much more stronger when we note that several Greek manuscripts of Matthew’s Gospel have Iēsous Barabbas, “Jesus Barabbas” - which is believed by a number of scholars to be more likely the original reading, with Iēsous being deleted either accidentally or on purpose:

Although the external evidence for the inclusion of “Jesus” before “Barabbas” (in vv. 16 and 17) is rather sparse, being restricted virtually to the Caesarean text (Θ Ë1 700* pc sys), the omission of the Lord’s name in apposition to “Barabbas” is such a strongly motivated reading that it can hardly be original. There is no good explanation for a scribe unintentionally adding ᾿Ιησοῦν (Iēsoun) before Βαραββᾶν (Barabban), especially since Barabbas is mentioned first in each verse (thus dittography is ruled out). Further, the addition of τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν (ton legomenon Christon, “who is called Christ”) to ᾿Ιησοῦν in v. 17 makes better sense if Barabbas is also called “Jesus” (otherwise, a mere “Jesus” would have been a sufficient appellation to distinguish the two).

  • NET footnote for Matthew 27:19

Some controversial authors like Hyam Maccoby, Richard Carrier, and Benjamin Urrutia think that ‘Jesus Barabbas’ was a mere invention of the early Christian Church, perhaps as part of an agenda to shift the blame for the death of Jesus away from the Romans and more to Jews and that it originally referred to Jesus Himself. The term Barabbas, according to Maccoby, from his custom of addressing God as Abba in his prayers, or else as a form of the rabbinic honorific Berab.

The original scenario, according to Maccoby, was that the group gathered in Pilate’s praetorium originally wanted Jesus to be set free, but Pilate would have none of this and sentenced Him to death anyway. Anti-Semitic elements in the Christian church, the argument goes, altered the narrative to make it appear that the demand was for the freedom of somebody else named “Barabbas”.

Even so, the name or the person himself need not be invented, as the use of 'Abba as a proper name is attested in 6th- or 5th-century B.C. texts, in one near-contemporary funerary inscription from near Jerusalem (ca. 110 BC - AD 100) and in rabbinic literature*. Some believe, meanwhile, that Barabbas should be reconstructed as bar-Rabban, ‘son of the teacher’ or ‘son of the master’. Nor is Iēsous (probably derived from Late Hebrew/Aramaic Yeshua, in turn from Yehoshua, whence came our ‘Joshua’) a unique name; Josephus lists nearly a dozen men named Iēsous, and the name Yeshua appears in at least 99 tombs and on 22 ossuaries dating from the 1st century.

  • For example, the 3rd century Talmudist Rabbi 'Abba Arika, Samuel of Nehardea (aka Samuel bar-'Abba), Nathan bar-'Abba, and Hiyya and Simeon bar-'Abba.

There was in fact a story in the Babylonian Talmud (Berakoth 18b) which goes:

Come and hear: the father of Samuel had some money belonging to orphans deposited with him. When he died, Samuel was not with him, and they called him, ‘The son who consumes the money of orphans’.
So he went after his father to the cemetery, and said to them [the dead], “I am looking for Abba.” They said to him, “There are many Abbas here.
I want Abba bar-Abba,” he said. They replied, “There are also several Abbas bar-Abba here.
He then said to them, “I want Abba bar-Abba the father of Samuel; where is he?
They replied: "He has gone up to the Academy of the Sky." …]

How bout this: the theological meaning of the crucified feet of Jesus:

Here is an addendum to the mystery of Christ’s toes in the crucified feet:

First recall, that the five sources of Divine Truth in Catholicism are, in order of most reliable to least reliable, and at the same time least evident to most evident:

The Trinity and Incarnation
The General Bishops and Oral Tradition
The Written Tradition [Scripture]

Both the big toe of each foot and the thumb on the hand stand apart from the other appendages. For, the big toe is much thicker than the others, and the thumb protrudes from the side of the hand rather than the top as with the other appendages.

Also, the thumb and big toe are on the ends of the respective member.

Similarly, the ends of the interval of sources of truth are the Trinity and Incarnation at the top, and Reason at the bottom.

These sources ARE special and STAND APART from the others as follows:

The Trinity and Incarnation is the ONLY source that is NOT on earth directly. All other sources are available on earth directly, but God is in Heaven, no longer manifesting Himself directly to the human race.

And how is Reason special? Reason is special, unlike any of the others, because it is the only source of truth that is NOT SUPERNATURAL. That is, it is not a source of REVELATION. It is a NATURAL source of truth that does not require Divine Intervention to be gotten at.

Hence, just as the thumb and big toe stand apart, being special relative to the hand and foot, respectively, so the end point sources of Divine Truth are special as well, standing apart from all the others.


I don’t agree with this assessment of the evidence at all. There is no evidence from Patristic sources, of which I am aware. If he and Jesus had the same first name, they would very likely have commented on this.

The presence of this variant in only one manuscript of any significance is strong evidence against it.

Copyists made all manner of errors in their work. They were much more literate than the general population, but they were not very literate compared to adults today. Also, the most knowledgable scholars were not copyists; this task was relegated to subordinates, essentially to students. It is not unusual for a word to be repeated out of place, in any order, especially since there was no punctuation, no spaces between words, and no difference between capital and small letters.

The addition of ‘who is called Christ’ has a purpose – Pilate wanted them to chose to release Jesus, because he considered him to be innocent, and because it would solve his problem of what to do with Jesus. So he biased the wording of the question, noting that the people called Jesus the Christ.


Yeah, theres a lot of speculation and speculation on top of the speculation out there.
It cant just be witness testimony, its some uber complicated analogy that a bunch of fishermen from Galilee came up with. There are different layers of understanding with scripture, but that is through the real events. The Lord puts it into real life. That’s what is profound.
I think people read into scripture some times trying to make up or ‘find’ something new just to make themselves look impressive to other people. Most of the time these guys are ignorant of the church fathers who already covered the stuff they are all mifed up about. Take protestants on baptism and the Eucharist. They say all sorts of nonsense and if you read the ECF they easily dispense with their arguments. Yet they continue on.
Any how, The Gospel writers indicated that what they were writing, and Im paraphrasing here was ‘the truth and not idle tales’ ‘the truth as best as I understand it’ and ‘written in order that you would believe and ergo inherent eternal life’. Amen

Well, there is one patristic mention. In his Commentary on Matthew (Patrologia Graeca 13, col. 1772), Origen shows his familiarity with manuscripts reading ‘Jesus Barabbas’ in his day, and even then, he rejected it on theological grounds because he held the conviction that no sinner or evildoer ever bore the name Jesus in Scripture.

In one uncial manuscript (Codex Vaticanus 354, dating to AD 959), there is a marginal comment for Matthew 27:16 reading: "In many ancient copies which I have met with I found Barabbas himself likewise called Jesus; that is, the question of Pilate stood there as follows, ‘Whom do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ;’ for apparently the paternal name of the robber was Barabbas, which is interpreted, ‘son of the teacher’." According to some other sources, this same comment is also present in some (at least twenty) minuscule MSS. Who actually authored this small note is uncertain: it has been variously attributed to Anastasius of Antioch, St. John Chrysostom, and (in one MS) Origen. This quote appears in Patrologia Graeca 17, col. 307 (Ex Origene in Evangelium secundum Matthaeum), BTW:

Copyists made all manner of errors in their work. They were much more literate than the general population, but they were not very literate compared to adults today. Also, the most knowledgable scholars were not copyists; this task was relegated to subordinates, essentially to students. It is not unusual for a word to be repeated out of place, in any order, especially since there was no punctuation, no spaces between words, and no difference between capital and small letters.

True. :slight_smile:

(again, taken from that other thread - with a bit of addition along the way)

The Nails - Three or Four?
Part 1

(Warning: I link a lot in this post)

Most of us western Christians grew up looking at images of the crucifixion that show Jesus"]being pierced with one nail over both feet. Sometimes we see images which have both feet nailed separately (for a total of four nails), but the three nails version is, for most of the time, definitive. Some people would even say that this is “traditional”, sometimes almost giving the impression that the four-nails version were somehow a novel variation. We must note, however, that depicting only three nails is purely a medieval (this iconographic convention only started around the end of the 1st millenium), Western thing; Eastern icons (with a few Western-influenced exceptions) uniformly portray four nails being used to pin Jesus down to His cross. And here they are following a more ancient iconographic tradition which may have some basis in historical reality.

The oldest depiction of a crucifixion we have, the Alexamenos Graffito (dating from the late 1st-3rd century AD), clearly shows the crucified figure’s feet as being separate. Other early images, such as a late 2nd-3rd century carved jasper either from Syria or Gaza (part of the Pereire Collection), a graffito found in Puzzuoli, another gem, and a relief from Santa Sabina in Rome (ca. 430-435 AD), follow suit in not showing the feet as being placed above the other.
‘Alexamenos, worship God’

This convention has passed on to Christian iconography, and for a time people, both in the East and the West, were showing the Lord being nailed with His feet separate.

It was around the early part of the 13th century that most of Western art (with a few exceptions) began to represent the feet of Jesus as placed one over the other and pierced with a single nail. This convention had already existed for a century or two, but it was around that time when the three-nails version took hold in Western art.

Not all greeted this ‘novelty’ with open arms; in fact, this depiction showing three nails had actually caused some controversy when it was first introduced. For example, in the latter part of the 13th century, Lucas the bishop of Tuy in Iberia wrote in horror about the Cathars who carve “ill-shapen” images of the crucified Jesus “with one foot laid over the other, so that both are pierced by a single nail, thus striving to annul or render doubtful men’s faith in the Holy Cross and the traditions of the sainted Fathers.” The Cathars, based on Lucas’ report, apparently manufactured a cross composed only of the vertical post, the inscription, and the footrest without the horizontal beam - while showing Jesus pierced with three nails, one of which went on both feet. To all this, Lucas retorted that a proper cross must take the shape of overlapping arms and represent the four regions of the earth. Not only this, there were also complaints about the rather ‘new’ convention of showing Jesus as showing indications of suffering and death, in contrast to the serene and triumphant Christ many people back then were used to. For example, Byzantine art started to show a Jesus with bowed head and eyes closed in the 9th-11th century AD: Cardinal Humbert, infamous for placing the bull of excommunication in the Hagia Sophia, cried heresy upon seeing a cross with an ‘image of a dying man’ (hominis morituri imago) in Constantinople in 1054.


The Nails - Three or Four?
Part 2

Now, it is unclear why the three nails version became predominant. It has been suggested that it was because of the symbolic/religious connotations of the number three that it became a popular choice for medieval artists in Europe (for example, the Trinity). By contrast, Eastern iconography was unaffected by all of this and continued to show four nails in most cases, even to this day (there are a few icons which show three nails, but these were probably done under Western influence). The four-nails version also lasted a bit longer in medieval Italian art because of the strong Byzantine influence in it (Byzantine artisans were used in important projects throughout Italy, and Byzantine styles of painting can be found up through the 14th century), and also in Spanish art well into the Renaissance.

Now, we go off into the archeological evidence.

The only artifact we have of an ancient Roman crucifixion, found in 1968 in Giv’at ha-Mivtar, is that of the right heel bone of a man called Jehohanan, who was executed in his twenties, pierced by an iron nail 11.5 centimeters in length. The nail penetrated the lateral surface of the heel bone emerging on the medial surface in which the distal end of the nail had become bent. The bending of the distal end of the nail upon itself suggests that after the nail penetrated the tree or the upright it may have struck a knot in the wood which made it difficult to remove from the heel when the victim was taken from the cross. Remains of olive wood found between the head of the nail and the heel bone suggest that prior to penetrating the heel bone the nail was driven through a wooden plaque (serving as a washer) so as to increase the head of the nail thus making it difficult for the victim to free his legs from the vertical post.

Anthropologist Professor Nicu Haas of the Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem examined the bones in 1970 and originally came into the conclusion that both heels were affixed by one nail to the front of the cross, as in the reconstructions below. (As an aside, I know of a few films such as The Last Temptation of Christ, Jesus of Montreal and The Miracle Maker which follow Prof. Haas’ initial reconstruction here, showing Jesus’ feet, or rather, ankles, nailed very much in the same position as the reconstruction at the right of the picture below). This osteological analysis, however, was done rather rapidly due to the demands of the religious community for reburial of the bones. Hence, many of the conclusions upon which Haas’ attempted reconstruction were made were later found to be flawed.
Two proposals for ancient crucifixion as demonstrated by N. Haas. The position on the right was the original anthropological speculation which was later changed to the position on the left.
In 1985, Joe Zias, then-curator of Archaeology/Anthropology for the Israel Antiquities Authority and Eliezer Sekeles reexamined the bones and found that the nail which Haas reported to be 17-18 centimeters long was but 11.5 centimeters, thus making it anatomically impossible to pierce two heels with one nail. The two heels would have not been nailed together, but nailed separately to either side of the upright post of the cross, so that he straddled it (interestingly, the Visual Bible’s The Gospel of John follows this reconstruction; as of now the only film which did so).

Also later challenged was Haas’ assertion that a nail had pierced the distal ends of the radius and ulna of the forearm. The scratches in the wrist area were determined to be non-traumatic and, therefore, not evidence of crucifixion). Haas had also claimed that there was evidence that the legs of the victim had been broken, but this was apparently based on what is described as “inconclusive evidence”. Hence, Jehohanan’s arms were probably just tied, rather than nailed, to the cross.

The way Jehohanan’s heels were affixed to the cross may thus, in this poster’s humble opinion, lead credence to the ancient idea that Jesus’ feet were separate instead of being pinned one over the other. Of course, at the end, we may never know which was correct, but it’s fun to speculate, ain’t it?

Well said. Yes, scholars tend to like theories that are very complex, thereby giving them more influence and importance, and allowing them to spend much time multiplying interesting but not well supported ideas.

Interesting. Origen says that in many examples (basically, editions) of this text the name Jesus is not given to Barabbas. And since his works were well known, and yet this point is not commented on by the vast majority of the Fathers, it seems that they too did not consider that Barabbas was called Jesus.

The comment in CV354 is quite late, and manuscripts tended to circulate locally, so a copyist or commentator would not have access to a representative sample of manuscripts. He would have access to the locally circulating manuscripts. So his comment on the ‘many copies’ is outweighed by Origen’s comment that not many copies contain this variant.

Still, it is a possibility. I don’t agree with Origen that Scripture cannot use the same name for a sinner. We have the example of the two Apostles named Judas.

Yep, Origen in fact mentioned that he preferred the ‘Jesus’-less version more based on that idea: he could not imagine a malefactor having the same name as God’s Son (nor is it fitting, he continues, that the name Jesus should, like the name Judas, be borne by saint and sinner alike). He thus concludes that this must be a heretical interpolation. And apparently, those who think that ‘Jesus Barabbas’ is authentically Matthean think that those who later copied the text may have thought so as well (they look at Origen and see his reasons for rejecting Jesus Barabbas to be rather fishy). Or it was a case of accident.

BTW Ron, you make a nice point about scribal error.


Supposing that the name Ἰησοῦς is abbreviated as per the practice of nomina sacra, it could be that IN (Ἰησοῦν) could have been either added or deleted by transcribers by accident owing to the presence of HMIN before it. But I have a question: how are we then to account for the preceding instance? We cannot apply the rule of dittography as easily as in verse 17:


’A vessel was lying, full of vinegar’
From Jesus (1979)

And immediately, one of them having run and having taken a sponge, having filled it with vinegar and having put it on a reed, was giving Him to drink. Now the rest said, “Let be; let us see if Elias comes to save Him.” But Jesus, again having cried out with a great voice, let go the spirit.

-Matthew 27:48-50

And one having run, and having filled a sponge with vinegar, having put on a reed, was giving Him to drink, saying, “Let be; let us see if Elias comes to take Him down.” But Jesus, having let go a great cry, expired.

  • Mark 15:36-37

Mocking Him also were the soldiers, coming near, offering vinegar to Him, and saying, “If you are the King of the Judeans, save yourself!

-Luke 23:36-37

After this Jesus, knowing that all things now have been consummated, that the Scripture may be fulfilled, says, “I thirst!” A vessel was lying, full of vinegar; so they, having put around a sponge full of vinegar upon hyssop, brought to His mouth. When, therefore, He had received the vinegar, Jesus said, “Consummated;” and He bowed His head and handed over the spirit.

-John 19:28-30

What is described as a ‘vinegar’ (oxos) in the Gospels in the context of Jesus’ death is probably the Roman beverage known as posca, made by mixing sour wine/wine vinegar (i.e. wine that was spoiled by faulty storage) with water, in some cases, flavoring herbs or eggs were also mixed. It originated in Greece as a medicinal mixture of vinegar mixed with water (oxykraton) with no general name, sometimes drunk or sometimes used externally. Eventually it became a favorite everyday drink for the Roman army and the lower classes from around the 2nd century BC, continuing to be used throughout Roman history and into the Byzantine period.

The word is derived from either the Latin potor, ‘to drink’ or from the Greek epoxos ‘very sharp’. It was initially an unfamiliar beverage in the largely Greek-speaking eastern Mediterranean region, where more sweet-tasting wines were preferred. As the Greeks lacked a word for posca, sources written in Greek, such as Plutarch and the Gospels, use the word oxos in its place (translated as acetum in the Vulgate). The word eventually migrated into Greek from about the 6th century AD onwards as the Byzantine army continued the Roman tradition of drinking what they now termed phouska.

Wine vinegar didn’t have any alcohol left, but was wine that had turned, well, sour. It is made by the action of acetic acid bacteria on alcohol to produce acetic acid. Since the bacteria that cause this reaction are aerobic, they require that the wine be exposed to oxygen in order to form vinegar. We must note that our English word vinegar actually comes from the Old French vin aigre, ‘sour wine’!

Posca was increasingly heavily used by the Roman army during the Republican period when it became a standard beverage for soldiers. The drinking of quality wine was considered a sign of indiscipline, to the point that some generals banned imported vintage wine altogether. Appian records both posca and wine as being among the provisions of the army of Lucullus in his Spanish campaign of 153 BC.The Historia Augusta records that by Hadrian’s time it was a standard part of the normal “camp fare” (cibus castrensis). A decree of 360 AD instructed the lower ranks of the army to drink posca and wine on alternate days.

Although it was primarily associated with soldiers and the lower classes, some higher-ranked Romans also drank posca to express solidarity with their troops. According to Plutarch, Cato the Elder was particularly noted for liking it.

In Ancient Rome - or in most of the ancient world in general, it was dangerous to drink pure water since it contained so much bacteria it could lead to diseases. This was one of the reasons why posca was so popular: it was affordable enough and is one of the better alternatives to tap water. The wine’s acidity took longer to spoil, it killed all the harmful bacteria and the flavoring helped to overcome the bad smell and taste of local water supplies. As well as being a source of liquid, it provided calories and was an antiscorbutic, helping to prevent scurvy by providing vitamin C. It was apparently also refreshing and made a decent thirst-quencher. The soldiers at Golgotha had brought posca to sustain them during their crucifixion duty: they weren’t getting drunk on it, but just using it to quench their own thirst.

And they gave for my food gall, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar (oxos) to drink.

Psalm 69 [68]:21 [22] (LXX)

By the way, the sponge was not unusual, since they were apparently part of a Roman soldier’s kit. Sponges were found along the Mediterranean coast, were widely used in ancient times to line and pad a soldier’s helmet. Soldiers also used sponges as drinking vessels. A sponge-on-a-stick could even double as a bottom-wiper (this was the case in public toilets at the time). Which is quite unsettling when you think of it: a soldier offers Jesus His last drink on what is practically the ancient version of toilet paper.


Many of us are now aware of how Jesus - and, well, everyone else who were crucified throughout the long history of the Roman Empire - were scourged brutally, as is standard practice; we have Mel Gibson to thank for that. The whips believed to have been used in such cases were called flagrum: usually described as having leather thongs, often with bits and pieces of metal (either iron or lead) or glass or bone added for effectiveness.

But here’s the catch: while contemporary written records give us some idea of the horror of Roman flogging, we have, as of now, no surviving specimen of a flagrum, not even a fragment. Archeologists have never found one, and most likely will not (the leather, the metal, the glass, and the bone would have wasted away or fell to pieces to the point that you won’t recognize them as being from a whip, after all). So, pretty much every picture of a flagrum you see are actually just, at best, conjectural reconstructions (usually based either on the little written records we have or/and the wounds of the man of the Shroud of Turin), since no one knows how exactly they looked like:

The reconstructions below, meanwhile, have a rather unique appearance (it significantly deviates from the cat-o’-nine-tails-ish appearance of other reconstructions), and according to its creator (who did a very good research and experimentation on the subject!) can actually deal some damage:

The 'Upper Room’

And He said to them, “Behold, when you have entered into the city, there shall meet you a man, carrying a jar of water. Follow him to the house that he enters, and you shall say to the householder of the house, ‘The Teacher says to you, “Where is the guest-room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?”’ And he shall show you a large upper-room, furnished; there make ready.

-Luke 22:10-12

The Last Supper, one of the most important events in the life of Christ wherein He instituted the Eucharist, was held in an anagaion (anything that is above ground; an ‘upper’ room). Now what exactly is this ‘upper-room’ and how did it look like? First, let’s check how houses looked like in the 1st century.

1st-century houses in Roman Judea were small, box-like buildings, usually built from hand-made and sun-dried day bricks or stone. Interior walls (or also the exterior if one could afford it) were covered with a mixture of soil, chalk and straw or lime plaster. Wide benches of mud brick or stone for sitting and sleeping, and shelves for storage, were built into the structure itself.

Stairs or a wooden ladder led up onto the flat roof (the roofs of houses were flat; the rounded domes you commonly see in some popular artworks are actually anachronistic). The roof was usually composed of timber covered with reeds, followed by a layer of mud and a dry mixture of chalk, earth and ash, which provided insulation. This layer was applied while the mud plaster was still damp. Finally a mixture of mud rich in lime was added, to keep out water. A stone roller was then used to compact each layer. It was because of this mud that weeds sometimes grew on rooftops. In some areas where timber was scarce, another possible alternative was stone beams covered with plaster. The roof was usually bordered with a wall around 2 feet high as a safety measure.

The inside rooms tended to be small and dark (due to the small and high windows, which prevented intruders and the cold from entering), so the courtyard and/or the roof tended to be important parts of the house where work was done, since they were used for tasks that needed good light - such as spinning and weaving, and food preparation. The roof might also be used for sleeping at hot days, or for drying food or textiles, or even as a dining area.

Now, at times temporary, tent-like structures were set up on the rooftop for shading. It is thus thought by some that it may be possible that the ‘upper-room’ where Jesus and His disciples ate the Seder was actually a sort of booth or stall, probably made out of thatch or tree branches, erected on the rooftop of the house they were in and furnished with tables and couches and whatnot.

Another possibility is that the house was a two-storey house. In such a dwelling, a lower room or cellar was used as a storeroom and stables for animals. The main living area, partitioned into several sections, was located on the upper level, accessed by a flight of stairs. It had a work and kitchen area, where the children often slept, and a separate bedroom for the parents. In a more wealthier home, a third room would be added for guests and for entertaining (=‘upper-room’).

Passover was a season when thousands of pilgrims flocked into the Holy City, swelling its population. At this time of year, there were a lot of people on the streets, many of them trying to find houses that would let them stay in for the feastdays or building temporary structures in virtually any place they could (the word used for ‘guest-room’ here, katalyma, is the same word that was used by Luke to describe the place where Joseph and Mary found no room for the birth of Jesus - what is traditionally misrendered as “inn”). What is interesting is that the words, ‘the Teacher’ and ‘my guest-room’, suggest that Jesus was well-known to that householder.

In recent years, it has become common knowledge that crucifixion victims may not have carried the whole cross because it is so heavy to begin with; rather, they may have carried only the crossbeam (aka patibulum), which was then attached to the vertical post (aka stipes), making a cross.

Now we go over to the question: how many ways are there of fixing the crossbeam to the post? We have two main ways of doing so:

(1) Have the whole cross on the ground.

This is the way we commonly see it in many artworks. In this method, the vertical post would first lie flat on the ground. The patibulum would then be fixed to it in place (that is, if we’re talking about the victim carrying only this), and the victim would be affixed to the cross. After that, the cross would be raised up.

There are, however, a few problems with this approach that we need to consider:

[LIST]*]If you fix the patibulum onto the stipes with the victim still bound to it (assuming that he was tied to the crossbeam when carrying it as in the illustration above), the victim’s head would get in the way if you’re trying to make a Latin cross.
*]Fixing the patibulum to the stipes with nails would be practical only if it was laid totally flat on the ground - assuming that the terrain was rough, there would be a bit of a difficulty driving the nails.
*]The weight of the victim PLUS the weight of the cross should be taken into consideration when raising it. Such a load would require quite a lot of manpower: you’d need men who will (1) push the cross up into the vertical position, (2) who will pull ropes that are attached to the side of the cross (see the picture above), and (3) fill in the hole with things such as dirt and rocks to stabilize the cross. At a minimum, one would require somewhere around five to six men to do the job. This is probably the reason why in many Jesus movies, you see a lot of soldiers during the Crucifixion. One example I would give is Mel Gibson’s The Passion, where it took around that number of folks to lift the cross up (yeah, that’s just a rough estimate ;)).
Having a large number of soldiers would also seem to run contrary to the Gospel of John, where it is implied that there are only as only as few as four present (because Jesus’ clothes were divided into four parts, “one for each soldier” - we don’t know if the centurion is reckoned here, however), and to common sense - would such a large number of men always be present at executions held routinely such as this one?
*]Once the cross is fixed onto the ground, you’ve got to take the ropes that were used to lift it. If the cross used wasn’t that tall, there would be little problem taking these off compared to when a more taller cross was employed (as in the ten-foot-tall-crosses of late Medieval-Renaissance art, where at the largest the victim would be like 5-6 feet off the ground).

*]Crucifixions were not rare events - on the contrary they were so common, and the Romans would have liked efficiency and thriftiness. Most nails from the crucifixion were probably reused over and over again due to the cost of iron; the same may have happened with crosses - they were also probably used and reused until they were no longer serviceable. Considering this, it is rather impractical to dig up, take down, and dismantle a cross just to reassemble, erect, and fix it to the ground once again later![/LIST]
Which brings us to possibility number 2:

(2) Have the vertical post already fixed to the ground.

The victim would carry his crossbeam up to the place of execution, where a stipes is already erected in place. The victim’s hands/arms would then be affixed to the patibulum first either by nails or by ropes. Afterwards, the patibulum is attached to the vertical post, and the victim’s feet would be then affixed to the stipes (as elaborated upon earlier, based on the iconographic evidence we have, I personally tend to believe that the feet were affixed separately instead of one foot placed over the other).

As for fixing the crossbar to the erect post, there are a number of ways with which this could have been achieved, but one of the more convenient methods with which this may have been accomplished is the mortise-and-tenon joint. In this idea, the patibulum would have a mortise (a hole) in the middle, which fitted snugly to the stipes’ tenon (a projection on the end of a timber for insertion into a mortise).

This renders the use of nails or ropes or any other device to keep the crossbeam in place unnecessary, as well as giving the benefit of enabling the cross to be reused easily.

Compared to idea number 1, attaching the patibulum and the victim to the vertical post is also more efficient in that it requires less manpower: two to three men would suffice for the job. This makes it ideal for routine executions and repeated use. Since actual crosses were probably not that tall, everything could be done at arm’s length - no need for ladders or ropes.

Now that I think of it, I think I made a mistake in the thread title. These little details are not so insignificant, after all…:eek:

Pilate, therefore, having heard this word, brought Jesus outside, and he sat down upon the judgment-seat to a place called Lithostrotos [Stone-Pavement], and in Hebrew, Gabbatha (and it was the Preparation of the Passover, about the sixth hour). And he says to the Judeans, “Behold, your king!

-John 19:13-14

One crucial phrase here is the word translated as “sat down upon the judgment-seat”, ekathisen epi bēmatos. The word ekathisen (the first aorist active of the verb ‘to sit’) in Greek is ambiguous and could be understood in two ways: if the construction is intransitive, then Pilate sat upon the tribunal; if transitive, Pilate made Jesus sit down upon it. It is in the transitive sense that the revised New American Bible understands the passage:

When Pilate heard these words he brought Jesus out and seated him on the judge’s bench in the place called Stone Pavement, in Hebrew, Gabbatha.

The footnote continues:

Seated him: others translate “(Pilate) sat down.” In John’s thought, Jesus is the real judge of the world, and John may here be portraying him seated on the judgment bench.

The above is an interesting reversal from the original 1970 NAB, where the translation sticks with the usual understanding of ekathisen being in intransitive sense, while noting the alternative transitive rendering in the footnote.

There are however some arguments against the transitive understanding of ekathisen, which Fr. Raymond Brown summarizes as such:

[LIST]*]One would expect a pronomial object to be present; e.g. “he set Him down upon the judgment-seat.” but there here is none;
*]The transitive meaning assumes Pilate was engaging in buffoonery by seating Jesus in the tribunal; an unthinkable act in this solemn context.[/LIST]
In favor of the intransitive meaning are the historical setting (there are things a Roman judge might do and would not do, and sitting the accused on the tribunal is one of the latter) and the intransitive use of kathizein in John 12:14 (Jesus, finding a donkey, “sat on it;” He obviously would not have sat the donkey down!), which is the only other appearance of the verb in the gospel. Fr. Brown also objects to a double meaning because “Johannine double meanings do not allow contradictory views.”

However, Fr. Brown’s objections are not that insurmountable. The presence of a pronomial would destroy all possibility of a double meaning, while the absence of an object makes the phrase purposely vague, allowing for Pilate as the subject or Jesus as the object, or both. Further, there is no reason to assume that Pilate was engaging in buffoonery by sitting Jesus upon the tribunal.

Yet the phrase does allow for serious possibilities. Historically, it was Pilate who may have sat down on the tribunal (preserving the solemnity of the occasion). On the other, the reader is allowed to imagine that Jesus the Judge sits on the chair. Thus, the primary historical sense is the intransitive while a secondary, theological sense proceeds from the transitive interpretation. We already see the theological sense being reflected in the writings of St. Justin Martyr and the author of the apocryphal Gospel of Peter:

And he delivered him to the people on the day before the Unleavened Bread, their feast. And they took the Lord and pushed him as they ran, and said, “Let us drag away the Son of God, having obtained power over him.And they clothed him with purple, and set him on the seat of judgement, saying, “Judge righteously, O king of Israel. And one of them brought a crown of thorns and put it on the head of the Lord. And others stood and spat in his eyes, and others smote his cheeks: others pricked him with a reed; and some scourged him, saying, “With this honour let us honour the Son of God.

  • Gospel of Peter III.7-9

And again in other words, through another prophet, He says, “They pierced My hands and My feet, and for My vesture they cast lots.” And indeed David, the king and prophet, who uttered these things, suffered none of them; but Jesus Christ stretched forth His hands, being crucified by the Jews speaking against Him, and denying that He was the Christ. And as the prophet spoke, they tormented Him, and set Him on the judgment-seat, and said, "Judge us."

  • St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 35

I shall raise this thread once more. :smiley:
And without any further ado, an addendum to post numbers 7 and 8 of this thread:

In this image, let’s observe how Jesus’ crucifixion was depicted from the earliest days up to the at least the 14th century (1300’s). I can’t (and haven’t) included as many images as I liked, but I think these are good enough representatives.

Column 1 (from left to right):
[LIST]*]Alexamenos Graffito (late 1st - late 3rd century AD)
*]The Pereire Jasper from Gaza (late 2nd-3rd century)
*]A cornelian gem (c. 4th century AD)
]Panel from the door of the Santa Sabina in Rome (c. 430)[/LIST]
Column 2 (from left to right):
]Jasper gem (4th-5th century AD)
*]Panel from an ivory casket, probably from Rome (c. 420-430)
*]A pilgrim’s ampulla from Palestine (6th century AD)
]From the Rabbula Gospels (6th century AD)[/LIST]
Column 3 (from left to right):
]From the cover of a reliquary from Palestine, aka the Lateran/Sancta Sanctorum Reliquary (6th-7th century AD)
*]Illumination from the Durham Gospels (late 7th century AD)
*]Illumination from the St. Gall Gospel Book (8th century AD)
]Fresco from Santa Maria Antiqua in Rome (c. 741-752 AD)[/LIST]
Column 4 (from left to right):
]Icon from St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai (8th century AD)
*]From the Gellone Sacramentary (c. 780)
*]The Athlone Crucifixion Plaque (c. mid-8th century AD)
]A reliquary of the True Cross from Constantinople (late 8th-early 9th century AD)[/LIST]
Column 5 (from left to right):
]From the Chludov Psalter (mid-9th century AD)
*]From the Sacramentary of Metz (c. 870)
*]Icon from St. Catherine at Mt. Sinai (10th century AD)
]Ivory plaque from Constantinople (mid-10th century AD)[/LIST]
Column 6 (from left to right):
]From the Ramsey Psalter (late 10th century AD)
*]From an Irish Psalter, (10th-11th century AD)
*]From the Bamberg Apocalypse (11th century AD)
]The apse mosaic of the Basilica of Saint Clement in Rome (12th century AD)[/LIST]
Column 7 (from left to right):
]The San Damiano Cross (12th century AD)
*]A 13th century crucifix by Coppo di Marcovaldo (c. 1225-c. 1276)
*]Mosaic from St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice (c. 1200-1220)
*]Marble relief from pulpit of the Cathedral of Pisa (c. 1302-1310)[/LIST]
It was during the 13th-14th centuries that the artistic convention of showing the crucified Jesus being pierced with three nails began to gradually appear and become dominant in Western art. A few examples are:

Crucifixion with Two Roundels (c. 1230) by an unknown German master
Crucifixion (c. 1245) in the Cathedral of Nuremberg, by an unknown German sculptor
Crucifixion (c. 1308) by Pietro Cavallini, from San Domenico Maggiore in Naples
Crucifixion by Giotto (c. 1267-1337), from the Cappella Scrovegni in Padua (1304-06)
Crucifixion by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255/1260-c. 1318/1319), from the Maestà Altarpiece (1308-1311)
Crucifixion by Simone Martini (c. 1284-1344), from the Orsini Polyptych (1333)
Crucifixion (c. 1400-1410) by the Master of Saint Veronica (active c. 1395-1420)
Crucifix (1412-13) by Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446)
Crucifixion (c. 1455) by Andrea del Castagno (c. 1421 – 1457)
Christ on the Cross with Mary and St John (c. 1460) by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400-1464)
Crucifixion (1475) by Antonello da Messina (c. 1430-1479)

And so on and so forth.

However, as mentioned previously, Eastern iconography has generally preserved the convention of using four nails. Here are a handful of examples:

An icon from St. Catherine’s at Sinai (12th century)
A 15th century Russian icon
Late 15th or early 16th century icon by Dionysius (ca.1440-ca. 1510)
Fresco by Theophanes the Cretan at the Monastery of Stavronikita in Mount Athos (mid-16th century)
Icon by the same artist (16th century)
A 16th century Russian icon

Also, despite the three-nails depiction winning over and becoming the dominant way for Western iconography, the four-nails convention has not totally disappeared, as we can see from the following:

The Merciful Christ (c. 1603), Juan Martínez Montañés (1568-1649)
Crucifixion (1622) by Simon Vouet (1590-1649)
Crucifixion by the same artist
The Three Crosses (1624-1626) by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
Christ on the Cross (1627), by Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664)
Crucifixion (1635-1640), by the same artist
Crucifixion (c. 1630-1640), by the same artist
Crucifixion (1631) by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)
Crucifixion (1632) by the same artist
The Raising of the Cross (ca. 1633), by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
Christ on the Cross by Jan Lievens (1607-1674)
Christ on the Cross (1780) by Francisco de Goya (1746-1828)
Crucifixion (1822) by Pierre-Paul Prud’hon (1758-1823)
Crucifixion (1880) by Thomas Eakins (1844-1916)
Compassion (1895) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905)
Crucifixion by unknown artist

Even so, there are indeed a number of icons which do show three nails, which however can mostly be explained as being due to Western influence:

A 13th century icon from St. Catherine’s in Sinai, probably executed by a Venetian artist. Note the inscriptions in Latin.
A 17th century icon from Crete (in 1204, Crete was eventually acquired by Venice, which held it for more than four centuries; during that time, the Greek population of Crete was exposed to and was influenced by Renaissance culture)
A late 15th century Cretan icon by Andreas Pavias

Because it is Lent, I think we should dig up this thread. :smiley:

Pontius Pilate

Pontius Pilate (Pontius Pilatus; Greek Πόντιος Πιλᾶτος, Pontios Pilatos) was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, from AD 26-36. He is probably famous as the man who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus. We do not know much about him, save for the scraps that men of former ages have left down for us. Pilate’s name has become famous only because of his association with Jesus Christ: “He was crucified for us under Pontius Pilate.” Indeed, we can say that if he did not have any involvement with Jesus’ death at all, he would only be yet another of those minor footnotes in the history of the Roman Empire.

Most of the governors (praeses (provinciae), rector provinciae) who ruled the forty-something provinces of the Roman Empire are actually virtually unknown to historians, who consider themselves lucky when they happen to know who was responsible for a province at a certain moment. There are, however, some exceptions to this.

The governor of any given Roman province had four tasks.

1.) He was responsible for taxation and financial management. Depending on the basis of his appointment, he was either the Emperor’s personal agent, or the Roman Senate’s financial agent, and had to supervise the local authorities, the private toll collectors, and levy taxes. A governor could mint coins and negotiate with wealthy institutions such as temples and private money-lenders that could advance money.

2.) He was the province’s chief accountant: meaning, he inspected the books of major cities and various operations as well as supervising large-scale building projects throughout the province.

3.) The governor was the province’s supreme judge. The governor had the sole right to impose capital punishment, and capital cases were normally tried before him. To appeal a governor’s decision necessitated travelling to Rome and presenting one’s case before either the Praetor urbanus, or even the Emperor himself, an expensive, and thus rare, process. The governor was also supposed to travel across his province - in the case of the governor of Judaea, this necessitated travel through the districts of Samaria, Judaea and Perea - to administer justice in the major towns where his attention was required.

4.) He commanded the military forces within the province. In the more important provinces, this could consist of legions, but elsewhere, there were only auxiliaries, as was the case in Judaea. As a part of his standing orders the governor had the authority to use his legions to stamp out organized criminal gangs or rebels in the area without need for the Emperor’s or Senate’s approval. Two cohorts had their barracks in Jerusalem (at the old palace and at the Antonia fortress); a third cohort guarded the capital, Caesarea Maritima; and two cohorts of infantry and one cavalry regiment were on duty throughout the province. Taken together, the prefect of Judaea commanded 6×500 men: a force to be reckoned with, but not enough when things went seriously wrong. In that case, his superior, the legate of Syria, would have to send a legion to his aid.

Pilate’s tenure of office - at least at first - was not typical, however, because the Syrian governor Lucius Aelius Lamia was absent. Lucius Aelius Lamia the younger, the scion of an illustrious family of cavalry officers that Augustus elevated to senatorial status and himself (or his father) reportedly a personal friend of the poet Horace and Cicero Minor, has had a prestigious career: he was consul of Rome in AD 3 and afterwards served as governor of Germania, Pannonia and Africa. He was assigned the post of legate of Syria in AD 22, but the title was purely nominal: for reasons entirely unclear, Tiberius requested the popular senator to stay in Rome. There, he was elevated to the status of prefect of Rome in AD 32. The aging military bureaucrat died after only a year in office and was honored with a state funeral.

The absence of an imperial legate for a decade gave Pilate much greater autonomy than was usual for a military prefect, as he could not rely on the Syrian governor and his troops to give him aid. In case of an emergency, he and his auxiliaries were alone.

Judaea was so unimportant a province, that no senator would have deigned to become its governor. Consequently, its governors belonged to the second class of the Roman elite, the equestrian order (ordo equester). These men were not entitled to become legates or proconsuls, but had to content themselves with the title of prefect (after AD 41, procurator).

Pilate, along with his wife, arrived at Caesarea in AD 26. Trouble started almost immediately at the beginning of his term as a prelude to his quite-stormy career: soldiers had brought statues of the emperor into Jerusalem, and almost the entire population of Jerusalem marched to Caesarea, imploring the new governor to remove the effigies, which were in violation of the Law.

Moreover, I have it in my power to relate one act of ambition on his part, though I suffered an infinite number of evils when he was alive; but nevertheless the truth is considered dear, and much to be honoured by you. Pilate was one of the emperor’s lieutenants, having been appointed governor of Judaea. He, not more with the object of doing honour to Tiberius than with that of vexing the multitude, dedicated some gilt shields in the palace of Herod, in the holy city; which had no form nor any other forbidden thing represented on them except some necessary inscription, which mentioned these two facts, the name of the person who had placed them there, and the person in whose honour they were so placed there.

But when the multitude heard what had been done, and when the circumstance became notorious, then the people, putting forward the four sons of the king, who were in no respect inferior to the kings themselves, in fortune or in rank, and his other descendants, and those magistrates who were among them at the time, entreated him to alter and to rectify the innovation which he had committed in respect of the shields; and not to make any alteration in their national customs, which had hitherto been preserved without any interruption, without being in the least degree changed by any king of emperor.

But when he steadfastly refused this petition (for he was a man of a very inflexible disposition, and very merciless as well as very obstinate), they cried out: “Do not cause a sedition; do not make war upon us; do not destroy the peace which exists. The honour of the emperor is not identical with dishonour to the ancient laws; let it not be to you a pretence for heaping insult on our nation. Tiberius is not desirous that any of our laws or customs shall be destroyed. And if you yourself say that he is, show us either some command from him, or some letter, or something of the kind, that we, who have been sent to you as ambassadors, may cease to trouble you, and may address our supplications to your master.’”

But this last sentence exasperated him in the greatest possible degree, as he feared least they might in reality go on an embassy to the emperor, and might impeach him with respect to other particulars of his government, in respect of his corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity.

Therefore, being exceedingly angry, and being at all times a man of most ferocious passions, he was in great perplexity, neither venturing to take down what he had once set up, nor wishing to do any thing which could be acceptable to his subjects, and at the same time being sufficiently acquainted with the firmness of Tiberius on these points. And those who were in power in our nation, seeing this, and perceiving that he was inclined to change his mind as to what he had done, but that he was not willing to be thought to do so, wrote a most supplicatory letter to Tiberius.

And he, when he had read it, what did he say of Pilate, and what threats did he utter against him! But it is beside our purpose at present to relate to you how very angry he was, although he was not very liable to sudden anger; since the facts speak for themselves; for immediately, without putting any thing off till the next day, he wrote a letter, reproaching and reviling him in the most bitter manner for his act of unprecedented audacity and wickedness, and commanding him immediately to take down the shields and to convey them away from the metropolis of Judaea to Caesarea, on the sea which had been named Caesarea Augusta, after his grandfather, in order that they might be set up in the temple of Augustus. And accordingly, they were set up in that edifice. And in this way he provided for two matters: both for the honour due to the emperor, and for the preservation of the ancient customs of the city.

  • Philo, On the Embassy to Gaius (38) 299-305
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit