Philippe Antonello / AP
JERUSALEM - The dearth of information about Jesus Crucifixion makes it impossible to describe the event in accurate detail, as Mel Gibson attempts to do in his new film,The Passion of the Christ,biblical scholars and anthropologists say.
People who have seen the movie say it adopts standard Christian imagery in excruciating detail: Jesus being pinioned to a Latin cross a T-shaped device with a short upper extensionE2=80 with one nail driven through both feet and one through each palm.
In a December e-mail sent to The Associated Press, Gibson said he didan immense amount of readingto supplement the Bibles relatively unadorned account of the Crucifixion in the four Gospels.
I consulted a huge number of theologians, scholars, priests, spiritual writers,Gibson wrote.The film is faithful to the Gospels but I had to fill in a lot of detailsE2=80 like the way Jesus would have carried His cross, or whether the nails went through the palms of His hands or his wrists ... Since the experts canceled each other out, I was thrown back on my own resources to weigh the different arguments and decide for myself.
Details open to
Some scholars say even the most widely recognized features of the crucifixion, such as the shape of the cross and the use of nails, are open to debate.
Crucifixion was first used in the 5th century B.C., and was a widely used form of execution in Asia, Europe and Africa for the ensuing eight centuries, said Israeli anthropologist Joe Zias. Depending on technique, death could be swift or take days.
If you suspended people by their hands and left their feet free you would kill them within an hour,Zias said. If you suspended them in a way they couldnt exhale theyd be dead within minutes.
Zias said the question of whether Jesus was nailed to the cross or simply tied to it remains a mystery.There is no evidence whatsoever he was nailed,he said.The Gospels say he was crucified and leave it at that.
Zias criticizedThe Passion of The Christfor accepting the standard version of three nails being used. He said experiments on cadavers carried out by the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages have shown that people hanging with nails through their hands will fall to the ground within a relatively short time, pulled by gravity.
All this is Crucifixion 101, Zias said.People who study these things understand them. But Gibson ignored them in his film.
Photos and film clips released in advance of the movie indicate that Gibson's version of the Crucifixion has Jesus nailed as well as tied to the cross.
John Dominic Crossan, emeritus professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago, agrees with Zias that little is known about Jesus execution.
Early Christians believed that Jesus was nailed to the cross,he said.But there is absolutely no proof of this. The only skeleton of a crucified person ever recovered indicated that the two arms were tied to a crossbar, and two nails were used in either shinbone. There was no standard procedure in any of this. The only common feature in the different types of crucifixion is intense sadism.
Shape of the
The type of cross in Jesus execution is also in question, Crossan said. First-century Romans are known to have used both a T-shaped device, without an upper extension, and the Latin cross that is standard in Christian iconography.
Each of the four Gospels says an inscription mocking Jesus as theking of the Jewswas affixed to the cross. Crossan said this would have made sensebecause the whole point of crucifixion was to warn people through alluding to a specific crime.
Two of the Gospels say the inscription was mounted above Jesus. This presumably would strengthen the argument for a Latin cross, which would have provided space for writing about the condemned mans head.
However, the other two Gospels dont give a locator.It (the written warning) could just as easily have hung around his neck,Crossan said.
What did Jesus
Crossan is also uncertain whether the complete cross on which Jesus was crucified was carried to the execution groundsE2=80 either by Simon of Cyrene, as three of the Gospels report, or by Jesus himself, according to Johns account.
It is possible that the vertical part of the cross was kept at Golgotha, the place of Jesus death, and that the condemned person carried the crossbar, Crossan said.
The point is we simply dont know,he said,not in general cases and not in the case of Jesus either.