Rebuttal of a long-standing sindonological myth

A Guest Posting by O.K. (Read Full PDF)

Why Jesus carried the whole cross and not only the patibulum.
Rebuttal of a long-standing sindonological myth.

The long standing myth of sindonology is that Jesus carried only the horizontal arm of the cross –the patibulum. This view (which is illustrated on the picture below) is based on several premises; namely the permanent presence of vertical beam, the stipes in Roman places of public executions, and the conviction that the whole cross would have been “too heavy” to carry by the single person. Neither of those premises are correct, in fact –and if we confront them with empirical evidence from relics (the Shroud of Turin, the Tunic of Argenteuil, the Good Thief patibulum) and archeological evidence, it is clear to us that Jesus most likely carried the whole cross.

Read on



21 thoughts on “Rebuttal of a long-standing sindonological myth”

  1. That’s an interesting analysis and food for thought.

    It’s not impossible that Jesus carried a complete cross, but I do not find OK’s analysis particularly convincing. It may be true that the execution equipment was not left on-site – and Glori’s suggestions seem quite sensible in that respect – but that does not mean that the condemned criminal carried a completely constructed cross. There are a couple of reasons for this.

    Firstly I have myself carried such a cross a number of times, the distance (about 700m) between the Catholic and Anglican churches on my parish as part of the Good Friday ‘Walk of Witness’ and I think I can say with some authority that the crosspiece is always in front of the body and never makes contact with the back at all. OK’s diagram which seems to show the whole cross strapped to the back is wholly unrealistic. What’s more, given its length, the cross presses on the top of the shoulders and does not abrade the shoulderblades.

    Secondly, my cross consisted of two pieces of wood of equal cross-section joined by a cross-halved joint. If this is not done, then the cross-piece would either be simply nailed directly across the upright, or have a mortice cut out for a tenon in the upright to fit in. In the first case it would be very difficult to stand the completed cross up with a body hanging on it (the Good Thief’s beam looks like this), and in the second the crossbeam would have to be much thicker than suggested (maybe 15cm or so) to accommodate both the tenon. Also I would certainly not assume the upright had a circular cross-section; the crossbeam would be impossible to attach securely.

    As to weight, my cross was made of 6″ x 4″ (15cm x 10cm) pine and weighed about 50kg. However, I only carried it; I don’t know how stable such a narrow cross would be to hang a victim on.

    1. Hugh:

      I think I can say with some authority that the crosspiece is always in front of the body and never makes contact with the back at all. OK’s diagram which seems to show the whole cross strapped to the back is wholly unrealistic. What’s more, given its length, the cross presses on the top of the shoulders and does not abrade the shoulderblades.

      This is Marion’s analysis, not mine of what both the Shroud and the Tunic show for some reason. I hope he knew what he was writing about, as he was performing those experiments. The position of the cross is strange to me as well, but maybe there was some rationale behind that (falls?).

      If this is not done, then the cross-piece would either be simply nailed directly across the upright, or have a mortice cut out for a tenon in the upright to fit in. In the first case it would be very difficult to stand the completed cross up with a body hanging on it (the Good Thief’s beam looks like this), and in the second the crossbeam would have to be much thicker than suggested (maybe 15cm or so) to accommodate both the tenon.

      According to Gaza-Valdes the Good Thief Patibulum has a mortice. It does not have to be wide -only to fit the tenon.

      As to weight, my cross was made of 6″ x 4″ (15cm x 10cm) pine and weighed about 50kg. However, I only carried it; I don’t know how stable such a narrow cross would be to hang a victim on.

      I bet it weights much more than 130 kg.

      With proper support, no problem

  2. I shouldn’t call it a rebuttal, but at least may be worth some serious consideration.
    Nor can carrying the patibulum only be called a myth. The assertion was probably first made by Barbet who devotes two separate sections to the question, a) Instruments of execution b) Carrying of the cross. Barbet went to some pains to refute the assertions of a colleague, Judica, who had assumed that the whole cross was carried.

    Nor was it necessary that the cross beam be carried across the nape of the neck as shown in the illustration. Barbet referred to a time as a railway sapper in his youth when it was common for the workmen to carry a railway sleeper on the right shoulder, something which this correspondent is very familiar. He even described the results of some of their falls and likened the evidence of their excoriations, including both on the right and left shoulder as a result, matching both the Shroud and Tunic evidences.

    To raise the whole cross requires ropes, some tricky logistics in hoisting, and backfilling with tamping to anchor the upright in its hole, to ensure that it stays securely vertical. The only evidence for it is the partly damaged stone Holy Sepulchre, and whose use as such is conjectural. Have any other stone rings be discovered, A ring would seem to require some tiresome and skillful work to construct from stone, but I suppose it might be done, they don’t occur naturally. It would be a much simpler exercise merely to raise the patibulum with the crucified body on to an already fixed upright, and such ruthless efficiency is worth serious consideration, particularly if there are a number of prisoners to be executed. Fixed uprights were a common enough feature throughout the empire, and having discovered an efficient way of carrying out executions, why would they vary it from a normal practice which had become standard? .

    Barbet’s explanation is worth reading in some detail, as he would seem to cover all the bases, including accounting for the apparent evidence on the Shroud and Tunic, classical references to the practices of crucifixion, its origin, and so on.

  3. Upon the death of Herod the Great, and after a riot had broken out in Jerusalem following an unwise speech by Archelaus when three thousand worshipers were killed, Archelaus left for Rome to ratify Herod’s will. Sabinus, procurator of Syria and Rome’s financial agent, seized the opportunity attempting to take over Herod’s property without knowing Augustus’ decision as to succession. Full-scale rebellion broke out around the temple, so that the Syrian governor was compelled to send in troops and after a brief but bloody campaign, some 2000 of the rebel leaders were crucified.

    Do we suppose that there were 2000 stone rings ready at hand for the purpose? I think not! The occasion demanded more efficiency. Erect the stipes, nail the prisoners to the patibula, and llift them onto the stipes! Quickly and simply done! .

    1. Dave remember that after Third Serville War, Crassus ordered crucifixion of some 6000 rebel slaves on the road from Rome to Capua. There were no stipes there before. All 6000 had to be constructed from scratch.

    2. Crassus would want to do the job quite quickly before the arrival of his rival Pompeii, so I don’t imagine it would have been done in relays using fewer crosses. Spartacus had wanted to lead his batch of slaves to the north and return to Thrace, but they foolishly did not want to leave Italy and so turned south and were routed by Crassus, whereas two consuls had previously failed to deal with the revolt. Some 5000 slaves escaped from Crassus to the north but were routed by Pompeii. The result was that both Crassus and Pompeii were successful in their bids for the consulship in 70 BC, overturning the Sulla constitution which would have denied their right.

      But Rome and Capua are not Jerusalem with its fewer resources of imperial man-power.

      I think Barbet is successful in explaining all the significant excoriations on the Shroud image in terms of a cross-beam carried on the right shoulder, with its central point-of-balance slightly to the rear for stability in carrying, a fall with the beam then damaging the left shoulder, consistent with what he had seen of the stumbles of railway workers. The cross-beam scenario cannot be dismissed so easily.

  4. To raise the whole cross requires ropes, some tricky logistics in hoisting, and backfilling with tamping to anchor the upright in its hole, to ensure that it stays securely vertical.

    I don’t think it requires ropes, or tricky logistic. Just a hole drilled in advance in the rock, a stone ring also prepared in advance and 3-4 strong men to raise a cross with a convict (total weight 130-150 kg) and put it into the hole. It can be performed relatively easily.

    Nor can carrying the patibulum only be called a myth.

    But the usual claim that the whole cross was too heavy was certainly a myth.

    1. I can only suggest that you read Barbet’s two sections very carefully indeed, and then deal with the individual arguments he provides.

      1. What would happen – if say – Jesus stumbled a couple of times with the weight of the cross on his shoulders? Knowing we typically fall forward and down it is very conceivable that these bruises on his back and shoulder blades are caused by this cross – nearly crushing him. But this assumption is based on Jesus stumbling and falling down.

  5. Hello Stan, your presence on the site as a medical practitioner has to be very welcome indeed.

    If you’re not familiar with “Doctor at Calvary” by Pierre Barbet MD, you must get yourself a copy. It’s the classic work on Shroud forensics, has become something of a touchstone, a starting point for all Shroud forensic debates, is well-argued and is most authoritative as by an experienced forensic pathologist who also happens to know enough of the classics to be well read in matters pertaining to crucifixion, and punishment and other contemporary practices. I see it still features prominently on the web, copies are available from Amazon, and you can probably find a copy in a good second-hand book-shop or a public library.

    There can be no doubt that the Shroud man fell while carrying his load, attested by injuries to the knees and nose on which there is the same dirt as on the soles of his feet, travertine aragonite, a rare form of limestone but which is commonly found in Jerusalem. The impact of his load impacting on his shoulders as a result of falling are also evident. All three synoptic gospels recount that Simon of Cyrene was pressed into service to assist with carrying the cross, and it may therefore be inferred that the scourged man had some difficulty in carrying it.

    Barbet goes into considerable detail in describing all these injuries as a result of falling, too long to replicate here, which is why I suggest you obtain a copy of his book. A colleague, one Judica, had asserted that Jesus carried the whole cross, the lower half of the cross-beam hanging down in front, with the upper half over his right shoulder. Judica had apparently asserted that the injuries to the left shoulder resulted from the upper half of the cross beam falling across the man’s upper back and impacting on the left shoulder. Barbet disagreed with this scenario, and considered that only the cross-beam was carried.

    There seem to be two possible ways the cross-beam might have been carried: Either a) as shown in the drawing above with the cross-beam across the nape of the neck, with the man’s arms bound to it; Or b) as a workman might carry a beam on his shoulder, with the point of balance slightly behind, and held in place by the hands in front on the top surface. Barbet was familiar with the second practice through workmen carrying railway sleepers (US = cross-ties) and the injuries incurred as a result of occasional falls. He seems to envisage the trailing half of the cross-beam as crossing to the left when carried for purposes of balance, so that a fall would result in both shoulders being impacted. His detailed description is so specific that you need to read it.

    If you are able to obtain a copy of his work, your comments could be very enlightening in any further debates on the subject on this site.

  6. On November 10, 2000 I bought the book by André Marion
    (CNRS research engineer):
    “Jésus et la science” (Presses de la Renaissance, Paris, March 2000)
    and the book has been autographed by Marion the day after,
    in Argenteuil (where there was a meeting around the research
    about the Holy Tunic of Jesus).
    The interesting book was dedicated to Rodolphe, the son
    of André Marion. In that book you can easily read that there was the experiment where the son of Marion carried the entire cross…
    Unfortunately I do not see your possible observations
    (using Structural Mechanics, etc.) about the Cross and
    the movements of that crucified Man.
    I do not see even your careful consideration of wounds
    arising from rubbing on the wood (of the Cross).
    — — —
    Unfortunately I have no news about the radiocarbon dating
    of the cross of the Good Thief …
    Have you found the inherent news?
    — —
    Instead there is a paper about the “Titulus Crucis” :



    Radiocarbon age of the “Titulus Crucis” = 1020 ± 30 BP

    Calendar age of the “Titulus Crucis” = AD 996–1023 (1 σ) AD 980–1146 (2 σ)

    1. Piero:

      Unfortunately I have only the latter book Le linceul de Turin et
      la tunique d’Argenteuil
      where discussion of the subject is rather brief and does not go into details.

      Unfortunately I have no news about the radiocarbon dating
      of the cross of the Good Thief …
      Have you found the inherent news?

      No. I don’t think that this piece of the cross has ever been properly examined.

      Instead there is a paper about the “Titulus Crucis” :

      I have expresseed my view about Titulus in this post:

      1. Here you can read what I wanted to write (yesterday)
        in my previous message (around the book by Marion
        [year = 2000. Then, before the other book by Marion an Lucotte,
        of the year 2008, quoted in the .pdf file] and the transport of the entire cross)
        when I wrote something about the “careful consideration of wounds
        arising from rubbing on the wood”:
        We have to take into account the exact positions of
        the Man on the Cross!
        Then we have to discover (using a model)
        where were these positions (and their source
        = from what kind of movement of the body hanged on Cross).

        So, the simple question to answer is the following:
        What kind of dorsal rubbing on wood of the Cross?
        This can be the true way to follow in order to clarify the issue,
        because (in my opinion) nobody wrote the right observations
        about the exact skin-wood contacts …
        I appreciated the suggestion to re-read Barbet and then
        I ask to you:
        What are your own conclusions (inherent to
        the argument “skin-wood friction” here touched)?
        — — — —
        Here two lines about Lucotte…
        If I am right in my readings, it appears that the results of the particular analyses conducted by Lucotte have found that Jesus was an opium addict with bad habits …

        What is your opinion about Lucotte (a scientist who specialized in the field of DNA) who argued that Jesus was an opium addict ? His statements were based on the analysis of fragments of hair found on the tunic of Argenteuil …
        Now the questions are the following:
        What can we say of those DNA analysis?
        What value can we give to those controls on material very old?

        But those are other stories …

        1. I wrote in a wrong manner :
          >before the other book by Marion an Lucotte,
          of the year 2008,

          Instead of:
          >before the other book by Marion and Lucotte,
          of the year 2008,
          — — — —

          The Torah requires the use of the ashes of the red cow just to purify one who becomes impure through contact with a corpse …
          This commandment was given to the children of Israel in the second year after the exodus from Egypt, in those days the Tabernacle had been erected and put into use.
          At that time all Israel, including those who had not made impure through contact with a dead body, followed the ritual of purification through the ashes of the red cow, since they occurred was the incident of the golden calf.
          From this we learn that idolatry involves the same rite of purification such as contact with a corpse.
          … And what were the implications of that obligation, in the case of the Shroud?
          Often M. P. Hamon writes messages citing the history of the ashes of the red cow …

          The preparation of the ashes of the red heifer must necessarily be done by a priest, that is from a person who had never been impure through contact with a corpse.

          and, please, read the following words:
          “There was a man named Joseph, who was a member of the Council, just and good man, who had not consented to the counsel and deed of others.”
          (Gospel of Luke)

          In a controversial book by Gilbert Sinoué (Title = “Moi, Jésus” [= I, Jesus], 2007) Joseph of Arimathea is even described as a personal adviser of Caiaphas, the head of the Sanhedrin!

          What is your idea about Joseph ?

          Obviously this is off-topic.

          But Glori (in his IWSAI paper) said:

          “… According to the Jewish belief, people had to avoid any contamination with all that had touched the blood of a convict or a victim of a violent death. The rule stated that everything had to be burnt or removed. …”

          B.T.W. :
          I am still curious about the exil by Herod Antipater
          known by the nickname Antipas, who was a 1st-century ruler of Galilee and Perea and who bore the title of tetrarch …

          Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges is a commune in the Haute-Garonne department in southwestern France
          and it is believed to have been the place of exile from 39 AD of Herod Antipas, with his wife Herodias, under Caligula’s orders…


          So… Herod Antipas (and Herodias) journeyed to Rome to appeal to Caligula, but was instead banished to Lugdunum Covenarum in southern France, on the foothills of the Pyrenes.

          >The oppidum of the Volcae Tectosages was conquered by Pompey in 72 B.C. It became the capital of the civitas of the Convenae, which was successively part of the Provincia, of Aquitania, and of Novempopulania.
          >The town obtained first Latin, then colonial status. It was ravaged by the Germanic invasions and was destroyed in 585 by the Franks of Gontran.
          >Lugdunum commands the valley of the Garonne as it emerges from the Pyrenees. The ancient oppidum was placed on the heights and under the Empire was a double town; it was protected by a rampart in the Late Empire and now bears the Cathedral of Saint-Bertrand.

          (this is an excerpt from “The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites”)

          – A. Aymard, “Remarques sur des inscriptions de Lugdunum Convenarum,” ibid. 20 (1940-43) 131-88
          -. Sapène, “Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges” (Lugdunum Convenarum), centre touristique d’art et d’histoire, s.l. (1962).


          >Prendendo le mosse dall’analisi della distribuzione geografica di un bollo ceramico impresso su anfore vinarie della prima età imperiale, la ricerca ne discute la presenza anche in un centro sperduto del versante aquitanico dei Pirenei.
          >Quella esile traccia archeologica permette di riaprire la questione della sede dell’esilio di Erode Antipa e di sua moglie Erodiade, noto dalle fonti storiche, e di disporre attorno ad essa altre tracce archeologiche di diversa natura, che trovano a loro volta riscontro nel folklore e nelle tradizioni locali in una prospettiva storica plurisecolare

          Here a rough translation:
          >Building on the analysis of the geographic distribution of a stamp imprinted on ceramic amphorae of the early imperial age, the research discusses the presence even in a remote center of aquitanico side of the Pyrenees.
          >That slender archaeological trace allows to reopen the issue of the seat of the exile of Herod Antipas and his wife Herodias, known from historical sources, and to have around it other archaeological traces of a different nature, which are in turn reflected in folklore and in local traditions in a historical perspective centuries

          I see that I went really far from the Shroud, but Herod is one of the important characters of that terrible historical drama.

          See also:

          The next appointment (Univ. of Foggia, Italy):

          >Mercoledì 1 marzo 2015, alle ore 10.00, presso l’aula I del Dipartimento di Studi Umanistici dell’Università degli studi di Foggia (via Arpi n.176) si terrà il seminario di studio sul tema: “Erode sui Pirenei: storie di esili, di banchetti, di streghe”. L’incontro, organizzato nell’ambito delle attività didattiche del Dottorato di “Storia e Archeologia Globale dei paesaggi”, sarà tenuto dal Prof. Daniele Manacorda, ordinario di Metodologia della ricerca archeologica presso il Dipartimento di studi umanistici dell’Università degli studi ROMA TRE.
          >Daniele Manacorda ha diretto vari scavi archeologici stratigrafici specialmente a Roma, in Puglia e in Toscana ed ha organizzato l’allestimento di alcuni nuovi musei e parchi archeologici (Roma-Crypta Balbi, Piombino-Populonia, Narni). Ha pubblicato circa 250 contributi scientifici, occupandosi di metodologie della ricerca archeologica, storia dell’archeologia, archeologia urbana, produzione e circolazione di merci, relazione tra diversi sistemi di fonti archeologiche e storiche, archeologia e epigrafia, nonché di temi riguardanti la tutela e la valorizzazione del patrimonio culturale.

          Here a rough translation:
          >Wednesday, March 18, 2015, at 10:00 am, at the hall of the Department of Humanities of the University of Foggia (via Arpi # 176) will be held the seminar on the theme: “Herod the Pyrenees: stories of exile , of banquets, of witches. ” The meeting, organized as part of the educational activities of the Doctorate of “Global History and Archaeology of the landscapes”, will be held by Prof. Daniele Manacorda, Professor of Methodology of archaeological research in the Department of Humanities of the University Roma Tre .
          >Daniele Manacorda has directed various stratigraphic excavations especially in Rome, in Puglia and Tuscany and organized the construction of several new museums and archaeological parks (Rome-Balbi Crypt, Piombino-Populonia, Narni). He has published about 250 scientific papers, dealing with methods of archaeological research, the history of archeology, urban archeology, production and circulation of goods, the relationship between different systems of archaeological and historical sources, epigraphy and archeology, as well as issues concerning the protection and promotion of cultural heritage.

          But …
          Is it possible to use “geographical distribution of a stamp imprinted on ceramic amphorae” to locate the exact site of the exile of Herod?

          I hope in your interesting comments…

  7. I apologize, unfortunately I went off topic!!!

    But I had already tried to post something on the same subject
    (= Herod and Lugdunum Convenarum) last week and
    I had failed because the line was blocked …

    1. I I am right Lucotte indicates that, according to the studies of
      his colleague Andre Marion, bloodstains on what one considers
      as being ‘the rear side’ of the Tunic, are arranged in shape of a cross.

      So, the original book seems to be the text I have indicated in one of
      my previous messages.
      — —
      Yesterday I checked and
      Figures n. 5 and n. 6 of the book (whose author is only Marion)
      correspond to Fig. 2 of the file (pdf) of OK.

      Instead the figures n. 7 and n. 8 (whose author is only Marion)
      correspond to Fig. 3 of the file (pdf) of OK.
      — —
      After consideration of the exact (and amazing) and the corresponding positioning of the bloodstains of the Holy Tunic placed above the silhouette of the dorsal sheet of Turin, prof. Marion concluded that the probability that the two relics (Shroud and Tunica Argenteuil) are authentic are mutually reinforcing.
      — —
      Although I am more inclined to think to the “extreme” alternative
      of the transport of the entire cross (and I have several doubt
      about the possible weight), I follow the different points of view but
      I do not regard as essential the disquisition about the transport
      on the shoulders of the poor condemned (to the sad torture)
      of the entire cross or only the “patibulum”…
      — —
      In my opinion what may seem disturbing in the debate is the lack of
      studis of Mechanics and Structural Mechanics (see also: the possible
      concrete effects on the body of the poor Man condemned) on the main alternatives:
      – The lifting of the entire cross from the ground
      – The use of the stipes and the patibulum
      I believe it is necessary to proceed gradually in the study of these problems …
      — —
      Surfing the Web …
      I read that in 2008 Lucotte said that we can redo the whole chain of DNA from traces or fragments. He also said that it is possible to clone a human being and that he believed this was already done…
      and the same researcher (Lucotte), presented as geneticist,
      said he found erythrocyte on Holy Tunic of Argenteuil…

      So we have to consider the book:
      “Guardare la Sindone: cinquecento anni di liturgia sindonica”
      (= Watching Shroud: five hundred years of liturgy Shroud)
      Gian Maria Zaccone, G. Ghiberti

      Effata Editrice IT, 2007 – 454 pages

      where is the thorny issue,
      that I have already pointed out:

      Lucotte, not in his book, but in the magazine for the general public
      (= “Le Point”) claimed that the man of the Tunic of Argenteuil had
      an opium addict, of bad habits, and these claims were based on
      the analysis of fragments of hair …
      — — —
      Here an excerpt taken from the address:

      >… The DNA. Pr. Lucotte recalls that the red blood cells which have been located on the Holy Tunic, don’t have any DNA material. However, several cells of skin, hairs, dandruff, and of white globules, which have been located on the Tunic, contain the human DNA of which the chromosomal analysis, at this stage, indicates the following certainties:
      a) It is human DNA
      b) The genetic profiles of this DNA concern only one individual.
      c) The specific markers mention the presence of the chromosome Y, marker of masculinity.
      d) The chromosomal formulas indicate a correspondence with an oriental Semitic non Arabic DNA. We got, says the professor, the DNA print (like in legal medicine) of this man according to 15 discriminative markers.
      >This print, like all prints, is unique and will permit useful comparisons. …

      Here there is not the claim aboout an opium addict person.

      Now I am curious to read what is the exact opinion by Kelly Kearse on DNA analyses
      conducted by Lucotte (who has found that Jesus was an opium addict with bad habits!…)
      — —
      the name “Lucotte” also appear in the paper by
      Prof. Giulio Fanti:
      “A dozen years of Shroud Science Group”

      >… the Special Issue consisted of 12 papers signed
      by the following first authors: F. Alconchel-Pecino,
      G. Baldacchini, A. Carpinteri, G. Lucotte … … etc. … …

      (at pag 5 of 17)


      Click to access stlfanti2.pdf

      — *** — *** —

      The Holy Shroud is always a controversial relic.
      For example, today came out on the newspaper “Corriere della Sera”
      an article (centered on the book by Andrea Nicolotti, published by Einaudi)
      “The paradox of the Shroud” signed by Paolo Mieli.


      At the end of the summary of that article you can read
      the following words:
      >… Tutto ciò che è stato addotto a spiegare quei mille e passa anni di silenzio è nient’altro che frutto di un uso acrobatico della storia.

      Here the translation:
      >… All that has been put forward to explain the thousand-odd
      years of silence is nothing but the result of an acrobatic use of History.
      — —
      Another short phrase of the text:
      >Il 1973 fu l’anno dell’ostensione televisiva della Sindone.
      >A poco a poco nasceva la «sindonologia», che Nicolotti definisce una disciplina con «le caratteristiche tipiche delle pseudo-scienze»

      Here the translation:
      >1973 was the year of the Exposition of the Shroud television.
      Gradually arose the “Shroudology”, which Nicolotti defines a discipline with “the typical characteristics of pseudo-sciences”

      So… following that statement, I ask :
      Who was Vignon ?
      — —
      — — —
      However, I repeat that I am curious about the C14 dating
      (… or with another system, possibly non-destructive or very little destructive.
      See also: the interesting methods that prof. Campanella indicated as
      feasible for wood dating!) about the Cross of the Good Thief …

      1. Errata corrige:
        If I am right Lucotte indicates

        Instead of :
        I I am right Lucotte indicates

  8. I find very little in this “rebuttal” to be convincing. A few points:

    (1) Like any penal system, the Romans preferred deterrence over punishment. Having the stipes permanently mounted on Golgotha which was at the crossroads of two main roads converging on Jerusalem served this purpose well. This site was outside the walls of Jerusalem and out of sight of the Temple so the well-known Jewish outrage at Temple sacrileges would have been substantially muted. Similarly, the route to Golgotha was chosen to maximize the public spectacle so as to add to the deterrent effect of this horrific form of execution.

    (2) Dragging a 100+ pound full cross would have been extremely difficult, perhaps impossible for someone as badly beaten and tortured as Jesus was. Further, it appears the size of the Roman execution detachment was four or five men, including a centurion on horseback. To ensure that a condemned prisoner did not simply dump his cross and take off through the crowds in the narrow streets suggests that the patibulum (crossbar) was laid across his back and tied to his arms. As for the marks on the shroud, it must be remembered that Simon the Cyrenean helped Jesus to carry his cross. It may be that by the time they reached Calvary Simon was carrying the whole thing. Once Simon began helping, the patibulum would have rested on only one of Jesus’ shoulders at a time.

    (3) If there is any “classic” authority on crucifixion to be read, it is not Barbet. His conclusions on the crucifixion itself have been largely rebutted by Dr. Frederick Zugibe in his books, “The Cross and the Shroud” (1988) and “The Crucifixion of Jesus” (2005). Specifically, the notion that the victim had to raise himself on the cross to breathe and eventually died of asphyxiation when he could no longer do that is false. I was dismayed to see eminent Shroud researcher John Jackson repeat this discredited notion in the CNN show. The simple fact is that there is no more impediment to breathing by a crucifixion victim than there is for any person standing up with his arms outstretched to the sides. Try it against a wall on your tiptoes if you want to get as close to the physical posture of a crucifixion victim as you can. Now substitute a nail for the floor and you’ve got it. The point is that with the nail you are still standing. Your skeletal structure is the same as when you stand on the floor. A lot more painful, of course! If you want to test the hypothesis even further, nail a pair of old shoes on a wall and put gate handles where your outstretched hands would be. Get someone to help you and put your feet in those shoes while holding the handles. You will discover there is no problem breathing. You will discover that there is little weight on your hands and arms. You will also discover that you really cannot raise yourself at all. Within seconds your thigh and shoulder muscles will begin cramping. The only way you can find some slight relief is to lean forward as far as you can. All of this is discussed by Zugibe who also discredit’s Barbet’s thesis for the hand nailing.

    (4) Finally, it is in the nature of human beings to find the easiest way to do things. The easiest way to nail a person to a cross is to assemble the cross first, then lay the victim on it, then drive the nails through hands and feet (with one or more other people holding the victim in place), then use ropes attached to each end of the patibulum to pull the cross upright while the end of the stipes is placed at the edge of the hole where it is normally kept. When it falls to the bottom of the hole, jamming it in place with 4 appropriately sized rocks will keep it there. No need for a fancy rock ring. The notion that it would have been easier to raise the patibulum with the victim attached suggests to me that the person proposing that hasn’t done a lot of manual labor in his life. Plus, nailing the feet of a squirming victim on a vertical surface would have been far more difficult than doing it while someone could lay over his legs to hold them still.

    1. Some interesting comments, Jim. It was Barbet who gave weight to the fixed stipes, prisoner carrying only the patibulum idea, and he cites a few classic authorities and Roman military efficiency in support of it. In your para (1) you seem to support this notion, and then in your para (2) & (4) you revert to the prisoner being nailed to the full cross on the ground and then raising it using ropes. Are you speculating that the stipes were kept upright at the site as a deterrent, and on the arrival of the execution party, the stipes were removed from their holes, the full cross then assembled, and then prisoner nailed on to the full cross? If the stipes were only loosely kept in their holes, what would prevent thieves making off with the stipes for use as timber?

      Not all agree that Zugibe successfully rebutted Barbet’s scenario. As I recall from Zugibe’s published papers, his volunteer mounted a fixed-in-place cross, his hands being placed in gauntlets fitted with strain gauges, and his ankles bound by a strap to the upright. The arm tensions measured were much less than those claimed by Barbet, as some of he weight was taken by the feet. He then claimed that this data refuted the need for wrist nailing.

      If we use Barbet’s scenario of nailing the prisoner to the cross-bar only, then the full weight needs to be taken by the arms at the time of raising, and for that case wrist nailing would be required. Alternatively, Zugibe’s volunteer, with his ankles comfortably strapped, hardly simulates the excruciating pain of putting his whole body weight on a nail through his feet. The prisoner would seek to relieve this pain by transferring his weight to his arms, when again the need for wrist nailing arises. When the pan in his wrists and arms became unbearable, he would again transfer his weight back to his feet. Thus giving rise to Barbet’s notion of a see-saw action. So I don’t know that Zugibe’s account can be taken as the last word.

      If the cross-bar only was carried, then it may not need to have been carried as you describe in para (2), with it lying across his back against the nape of the neck, with his arms bound to it. It could be carried on one shoulder lying parallel to the direction of travel. The prisoner’s wrists could still be bound to the leading end of the cross-bar to prevent him dumping it. The excoriation below the left shoulder is consistent with a fall when the trailing end of the cross-bar impacts on his shoulder. Barbet claimed to have observed similar wounds by railway workers when they occasionally stumbled when carrying railroad cross-ties.

      As crucifixion has not been regularly practised since about 325 AD, we can’t know the full details, and doubtless there were some variations in local practices anyway. So that any reconstruction inevitably involves a degree of speculation. Any comments?

  9. On page 136 of the book “Inchiesta sulla Sindone” (= “An Inquiry Into the Shroud”), by Marco Tosatti (Piemme editions, 2009) we can find the idea of a different explanation…
    It is a hypothesis, a bit less striking, but also with this (perhaps) of its rationality and supported by the experience of the doctor Prof. Baima Bolllone. Which offers a different explanation:
    “Experimental investigations comparative between the attitude whether of living people and dead persons, lying on a thick glass, allowed to advance the hypothesis that the areas right scapular and left suprascapular not match the injuries, but simply of cadaveric bruises/stripes (= black-and-blue marks, etc. …) due to compression on the floor support ”

    Unfortunately I do not have data on the reliability of this supposition.

    — — —
    Then, see also:
    “Post-mortem hypostasis”


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