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13th April 2001
Good Friday

 

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Sermon

"RECENT DISCOVERIES ABOUT THE CRUCIFIXION"

 

Scripture Reference

MATTHEW 27:11-44


There have been a number of significant recent discoveries about crucifixion in the time of Jesus. For example, Oxford scientist Dr Colin Humphreys claims to have identified the date of the crucifixion of Jesus. Friday April 3 AD 33, some time early in the morning. The body was taken from the cross just prior to 6.20 pm of that same day. Dr Humphreys, Fellow of the University, lecturer in Oxford University Department of Metalurgy and Science of Materials has worked 2 years on the project. His computer findings have been independently checked by Dr Richard Stevenson internationally acknowledged Physics expert, University of Durham.

Their data base from Matthew's statement that at the time Jesus was pronounced dead, the earth turned to darkness. Peter said on the day of Pentecost 50 days later, a quote from Joel: "The sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon into blood". "I knew as a scientist that the phrase "The moon turned to blood" had been used by ancient writers to describe an eclipse of the moon. In a lunar eclipse the moon is turned red for the same reason that the sun goes red at its rising and setting. That set me to the task of finding out if there had been the extremely rare occurance of a lunar eclipse, over Palestine, during the time Pilate was Procurator of Jerusalem. There was also an ancient confirmation that said that at the time of the crucifixion the moon appeared as blood." Computer calculations were used to discover, at that latitude and longitude, every time in the past 2000 years when a moon eclipse occurred. They found one occurred at 6.20 pm Friday April 3, 33 AD.

"All Jerusalem would have been looking for it, because when the sun set and the moon rose, the Passover Sabbath, the most Holy Day for Jews, would begin. It must have been a dramatic sign, for on that night, about one third of the moon would have been white, and nearly 70 percent would have been red because of the eclipse." Dr Richard Stevenson's independent computer calculations came to the same conclusion: 6.20 pm Friday April 3 33 AD. The Bible record states simply: A darkness had covered the land all afternoon. Jesus had cried: "My God,. Why hast thou forsaken me?" "It is finished" "Into thy hands I commit my spirit". And he breathed his last. The moon turned to blood. Matt. 27: 57-61.

Of all the thousands of scientific discoveries and archaeological discoveries, not one has been a disproval of the Biblical account. Every discovery confirms the facts of the scripture. What do other modern discoveries tell us of His crucifixion apart from the date?

1. DISCOVERIES ABOUT WHERE JESUS DIED.
In the 4th century, when the Emperor Constantine adopted Christianity, his mother, Helena, visited all the sites associated with the life of Jesus and built churches on them. Later Moslems turned the churches into mosques thus marking them permanently. Helena found the site of the crucifixion and the tomb of our Lord, covered by a pagan temple built by the Emperor Hadrian. It had been built over Calvary to stop Christians praying there. In so doing they marked the spot. Helena had the temple demolished and a tomb was found beneath it. This was designated the tomb of Christ and the church built over it is known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Is the historic site, inside the present walls, marked from the earliest days by temple, church and mosque, the authentic site of the death of Jesus? Professor James H Charlesworth declares "The most significant archaeological discovery for Jesus Research is the growing proof of the site of the crucifixion. Jesus was crucified just outside Jerusalem's walls." Archaeologists have discovered the foundations of the original walls showing the traditional site was outside the walls, and also the foundations of Emperor Hadrian's Temple built over the site to stop Christians praying there! "These two major discoveries confirm in my opinion that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre houses the rock on which Jesus was crucified." (p124) Today, these two discoveries identify the site of the crucifixion and the burial tomb of Jesus!

The discovery of a marble plaque bearing the name of the Governor Pilate and the date confirms the Biblical account. At the foot of the Cross soldiers gambled with dice for the cloke of Jesus. Within 30 metres of the place of the cross, a stone floor with gambling games marked with point of a sword by bored soldiers on duty, indicate the prevalence of the custom. Bone dice have been found. Where Jesus died is known.

2. DISCOVERIES ABOUT HOW JESUS DIED.
Jesus predicted His coming crucifixion many times. Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33?34; John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32?33. Roman customs were followed in the scourging, mock enthronement, the bearing the crossbeam, the crucifixion itself, the site on a hill and the size of the cross (the reed to pass up a sponge for His thirst shows it was about nine feet high) showed their desire to display a "criminal."

During this period of Roman occupation, crucifixion was common. After the Romans quelled a rebellion in Judea in 7 AD, Quintilius Varus, the Roman Legate of Syria, crucified 2,000 Jews in Jerusalem. As a teenager, Jesus saw hundreds of men crucified in Galilee after one revolt. During Titus's siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, his troops crucified 500 Jews a day for several months. The execution was supervised by an official known as the Carnifix Serarum. After judgement, the victim was stripped, bound and scourged with a flagellum of leather thongs tipped in lead or bone. Care was taken not to kill the victim too soon. Then the horizontal beam was placed upon the condemned man's shoulders, and he was marched to the execution site outside the city walls. The soldier heading the procession carried the titulus, an inscription written on wood of the defendant's name and crime. This was nailed to the cross. The victim was laid on the ground, with his arms nailed or bound to the cross-beam, which was then raised and fixed to a vertical beam.

The victim's feet were then nailed down against this vertical stake. Without any body support, the victim would die from muscular spasms and asphyxia in a very short time, certainly within two or three hours. Breathing would become difficult. The victim would attempt to draw himself up on his arms to breath. Initially he would be able to hold himself up for a few seconds. Death would ensue. Crucified criminals are not given great burials and monuments, so nothing remains after their death. But for Joseph of Arimathaea offering a tomb he owned nearby, the body of Jesus, like that of the thieves who died with him, would have been burned on the rubbish dump down in the Valley Gehenna.

No archaeological evidence of crucifixion has ever been discovered over the centuries - until 1968! The man discovered was a Jew, of a good family, convicted of a political crime. He lived in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus and died sometime before 70 A.D. After the Six Day War in 1967 much construction was undertaken in Jerusalem. Accidental archaeological discoveries were frequent including the discovery of these burial chambers and tombs containing burial niches. On three sides of the chamber were stone benches and the fourth wall contained two openings leading down to another chamber. Each chamber contained burial niches called loculi. Nine of the 12 loculi contained a skeleton each, but three contained ossuaries.

Ossuaries are small boxes (28 inches long, 20 inches wide and 16 inches high) for the secondary burial of bones. After the body had been buried for a year and the flesh had decomposed, the bones were re-interred in an ossuary. This allowed a tomb to be re-used. Most Jewish families could not afford an ossuary and reburied the bones in pits. These skeletons were of two generations of a wealthy family. Five of the 17 people died before reaching the age of seven. Three quarters had died before age 37. Only two lived beyond 50. One child died of starvation, one woman was killed when struck on the head, and one man had been crucified. He was between 24 and 28 years old. A 7" nail held his heel bones together. The nail was preserved only because it hit a hard knot when it was pounded into the olive wood upright of the cross. The olive wood knot was so hard that, as the blows on the nail became heavier, the end of the nail bent and curled. Some olive wood remains on the end of the nail.

When it came time for the dead victim to be removed from the cross, the executioners could not pull out this nail, bent as it was within the cross. The only way to remove the body was to take an axe and amputate the feet. Thereafter, the feet, the nail and a plaque of wood, the titulus, that had been fastened between the head of the nail and the feet remained attached to one another. The nail had penetrated both heel bones. The crucified man was 5'6" (167 cm) tall, in his mid-twenties. His limb bones were fine, his muscles were lean, pointing to physical activity. Since the same nail went through both heels, the legs were together. The long bones below the knees had been brutally fractured into large, sharp slivers produced by a single blow. Jewish tradition required burial on the day of execution. So the executioner would break the legs of the crucified person in order to hasten death. John writes (19:32-33) "The soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs." This is now confirmed archaeologically.

The arm bones of the victim revealed a deep scratch on the radius of the right forearm while the bone was living, just above the wrist produced by a nail penetrating between the radius and the ulna. Christian paintings usually show the nails piercing the palms of Jesus' hands, but that is impossible. The weight of the slumping body would have torn the palms in a very short time. The nails were driven into the victim's wrists, because they are sufficiently strong to hold the weight of a slack body. We also know his name. On the ossuary is his name: "Yehohanan, the son of Hagakol."

3. DISCOVERIES ABOUT WHY JESUS DIED.
We have extraordinarily clear evidence of the nature of crucifixion. But we also have powerful literary evidence that Jesus Christ died upon a cross for the sins of the world. There is the fact: He died upon the cross. There is the interpretation of the fact: He died for the sins of the world. So the old creed says: "For our sake He was crucified under Pontius Pilate." We see the sign of the cross so often that it has little effect on us. Even on the day of the crucifixion of Jesus many people just passed by thoughtless. The early church was so devastated by the apathy of people at our Lord crucified, that they turned to a verse from Lamentations: 1:12 "Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look around and see. Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me."

The cross had little effect upon the workmen who fashioned it, the soldiers who guarded it, the people who passed it or the priests who caused it. Yet Christianity has as it's central symbol the Cross of Christ. The evidence is overwhelming. The cross of which Christians sing and in which hymn writers "glory" and consider "wondrous" was fearful and repellent in the first-century world. It is only the significance of the death of Jesus that has transformed shame into wonder and disgust into praise. Do not just pass by! Stay and pause. Consider that Jesus Christ was willing to die for your sins. In complete commitment give yourself to Him as Lord of your Life and the Saviour of your soul. He died upon the Cross after fearful agony of body and soul for your sins. Does He not draw you to His side? "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all!" Give your life to Christ who died for you.

 

"Biblical Archaeology Review" Feb 1985.
"Jesus Within Judaism." J.H.Charlesworth. SPCK 1988


Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

 



Send an e-mail to Gordon Moyes - gkmoyes@wesleymission.org.au

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