Death by Love
- Thursday, October 09, 2008
Crucifixion was likely invented by the Persians around 500 BC and continued until it was outlawed by the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine around AD 300. Although crucifixion was created by the Persians, it was perfected by the Romans, who reserved it as the most painful mode of execution for the most despised people, such as slaves, poor people, and Roman citizens guilty of the worst high treason.
Throughout history, crucifixion has remained perhaps the most horrid form of execution. Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, German soldiers crucified Jews at Dachau by running bayonets and knives through their legs, shoulders, throats, and testicles. Under the leadership of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge performed crucifixions in Cambodia. Today, crucifixion continues in Sudan and online with the multiplayer video game Roma Victor.
The pain of crucifixion is so horrendous that a word was invented to explain it—excruciating—which literally means "from the cross." The pain of crucifixion is due in part to the fact that it is a prolonged and agonizing death by asphyxiation. Crucified people could hang on the cross for days, passing in and out of consciousness as their lungs struggled to breathe, while laboring under the weight of their body. It was not uncommon for those being crucified to slump on the cross in an effort to empty their lungs of air and thereby hasten their death.
None of this was done in dignified privacy but rather in open, public places. It would be like nailing a bloodied, naked man above the front entrance to your local mall. Crowds would gather around the victims to mock them as they sweated in the sun, bled, and became incontinent from the pain that could last many days. Once dead, the victim was not given a decent burial but rather left on the cross for vultures to pick apart from above while dogs chewed on the bones that fell to the ground, even occasionally taking a hand or foot home as a chew toy, according to ancient reports.3 Whatever remained of the victim would eventually be thrown in the garbage and taken to the dump unless his family buried it.
Not only was crucifixion excruciatingly painful and publicly shameful, it was also commonly practiced. Tens of thousands of people were crucified in the ancient world. For example, when Spartacus died in battle, six thousand of his followers were crucified in one day. They were lined up along a road that stretched for one hundred and twenty miles, not unlike the shoulder of a modern freeway.
As a general rule, it was men who were crucified. Occasionally a man was crucified at eye level so that passersby could look him directly in the eye as he died and cuss him out and spit on him in mockery. In the rare event of a woman's crucifixion, she was made to face the cross. Not even such a barbarous culture was willing to watch the face of a woman in such excruciating agony.
On the day Jesus was crucified, two men were hung with him, one on each side. Some years later, when the leader of Jesus' disciples, Peter, was to be crucified, he reportedly did not consider himself worthy of dying like Jesus and therefore requested that he be hung upside down. His request was granted, and he hung upside down until he closed his eyes in death and opened them to gaze upon his scarred Savior and heard, "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Among the scandals of the cross is the fact that Christians call it their gospel, or good news, and celebrate it every year on Good Friday. It is the means by which God has chosen to forgive our sins. Indeed, not every-one considers the cross of Jesus such good news. For example, speaking of Jesus' crucifixion, the Hindu Gandhi said, "His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept."
The question begs to be answered, how can Christians celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus as good news, indeed, the best news they have ever heard? To answer this question we must move from the historical fact of Jesus Christ's death to the theological meaning of that fact.
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