An examination disclosed the fact that nails had also been driven between the radius and ulna bones in the lower arm. The radius bone was both scratched and actually worn smooth. This latter result was apparently due to repeated friction caused by the crucifixion victim pulling himself upward in order to breathe, followed by sinking back down again. As the weight of the body was repeatedly moved in order to free the pectoral and intercostal muscles, which inhibit breathing in the “down” position, the radius was worn.
Additionally, Haas discovered that Yohanan’s lower leg bones were broken. The left tibia and fibula bones and the right tibia bone were apparently crushed by a common blow, with the legs being sawed off at a later time. This is quite consistent with the dreaded Roman crucifragiumspoken of in John 19:31–32 as being normal procedure for crucifixion victims. Death was hastened because the victim was not able to push himself up on the cross in order to breathe, which brought death in a comparatively short period of time.^9
However, Haas’ study has been seriously criticized by some researchers, who dispute his findings at a number of points. J. Zias and E. Sekeles published their study that argues, among other findings, that there was insufficient evidence to indicate either a cleft palate, that nails pierced the forearms, or that the ankles were broken during the process of crucifixion.^10
The crucifixion process recorded in the Gospels has been at least partially corroborated by this discovery, with the extent of confirmation depending on the correct view of the data. Archaeology provides us with at least some facts that have a bearing on the death of Jesus. (1)Victims were often nailed to crosses through the feet or heels and through the wrist or lower arm area. Whether or not the latter was the case with Yohanan, it is the normal way of Roman crucifixion.^11 (2)The vast majority of medical researchers agree that the positioning of the body required the
9 N. Haas, “Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv‘at ha-Mivtar,” Israel Exploration Journal20 (1970), pp. 38–59.
10 J. Zias and E. Sekeles, “The Crucified Man from Giv‘at ha-Mivtar: A Reappraisal,” Israel Exploration Journal, 35 (1985), pp. 22–27; cf. the list of objections in Joe Zias and James H. Charlesworth, “Crucifixion: Archaeology, Jesus, and the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Charlesworth, ed., Dead Sea Scrolls, pp. 279–280.
11 See especially Martin Hengel, Crucifixion(Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977), pp. 25, 31– 32 in particular.
victim to move upward and downward in order to alternatively breathe and rest.^12
(3)Smashing the leg bones was used in cases where a hasty death was desired.^13
The Nazareth Decree
In 1878 a marble slab measuring approximately fifteen by twenty-four inches was discovered at Nazareth, describing itself as an “ordinance of Caesar.” The message was a strict prohibition against the disturbing of graves. Scholars generally agree that it was issued by Claudius between AD 41–54. The inscription was written in Greek, translated as follows: Ordinance of Caesar. It is my pleasure that graves and tombs remain perpetually undisturbed for those who have made them for the cult of their ancestors or children or members of their house. If, however, anyone charges that another has either demolished them, or has in any other way extracted the buried, or has maliciously transferred them to other places in order to wrong them, or has displaced the sealing on other stones, against such a one I order that a trial be instituted, as in respect of the gods, so in regard to the cult of mortals. For it shall be much more obligatory to honor the buried. Let it be absolutely forbidden for anyone to disturb them. In case of violation I desire that the offender be sentenced to capital punishment on charge of violation of sepulchre.^14