Crucifixion Is A Barbaric Practice Still Under Review

September 5, 2022 at 9:08 p.m.


Following a medical checkup, it was determined that a seemingly common mole on my forehead proved to be a squamous cell carcinoma and best to have it removed. Once again, I was scheduled for Moh’s surgery.  I made an appointment to visit Dr. Thomas McGovern in Fort Wayne.

Besides being a surgeon, he is a prolific writer and I knew that he had recently written a book entitled “What Christ Suffered” detailing the way Christ died from crucifixion at the hands of Romans.  The book  peeked my interest and I became curious about the cruel, inhumane practice and all that it had entailed.

For those not aware of crucifixion, it can be defined as a method of execution by which a person is hanged, usually by their arms, from a cross or similar structure until dead. It has been used in many parts of the world and in many time periods, but is perhaps best known today as a method of social control and punishment in the Roman Empire around 2,000 years ago.  

According to Stephen Miller in his book “Eyewitness to Crucifixion,” “There are four gotta-have-it marks of a crucifixion. Many Christian scholars seem to agree on that much. If an execution doesn’t hit all four, it’s not a crucifixion, strictly defined. Suspension — the victim is hanging above the ground. Execution — that’s the goal, whether the victim dies or not. Wood — it might be a board or pole, with or without a crossbeam; and the victim is attached to it, whether tied or nailed. Slow death — the plan is to prolong suffering.”

Cause Of Death

There have been a number of books and articles published on the subject, most focused on the determining how crucified individuals actually died.

There have been at least 10 different theories proposed, and many published suggesting a combination of these theories. Besides cardiac rupture, other causes of death from crucifixion have been proposed: heart failure, traumatic and hypovolemic shock, syncope (fainting), acidosis, asphyxiation, arrhythmia, pulmonary embolism, suspension trauma, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) or a combination of these.

Determining a cause of death common to all crucifixions is likely impossible because victims could be crucified in multiple positions.  Some authors have even argued that in a limited proportion of cases the victim only appeared to die, and recovered consciousness once brought down from the cross.

A majority of medical and lay articles regarding crucifixion, and specifically the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now state that suffocation was the primary cause of death.  An in-depth analysis by McGovern and others reveals that this theory is based on a form of torture unrelated to crucifixion and that no evidence directly linking suffocation to crucifixion has been published.  Indeed, a thorough review of available ancient evidence from literature, artwork, graffiti and modern archeology and re-enactment studies reveals no evidence in favor of suffocation and much evidence against suffocation as the cause of death in typically-portrayed crucifixions, and particularly for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Written evidence for the details of crucifixion has been limited to eye witness accounts and other related written texts.  No Roman period instructions for those performing crucifixion have been preserved.  

Mcgovern’s Book

McGovern found that some of the potential causes of death have a much higher likelihood than others. Throughout his book, he describes various potential causes and stated which are more or less likely given the current evidence.

Second, he presented a general (though not specific) set of guidelines for executioners and their employees in the time of the Roman Empire that had been found inscribed in a wall in Italy.  

Third, that there are several theories about why breaking the legs of crucifixion victims hastened death, and he believes that one makes more sense than others.  

His book delves more deeply into ancient crucifixion literary references. He modestly told me that “What Christ Suffered” was the number one top seller in the religious category on Amazon. He does not stop with the physical sufferings of the Lord. He also reflects upon the mental and emotional sufferings of the Lord. He relates how the Lord experienced fear, sorrow, anxiety, and mental distress. Because McGovern finds the Lord as the true God and true man, he willingly chose, in his Passion and death, to suffer the human sufferings that mankind  all experience.

Final Thoughts

Although I have never studied religion, I am aware of the amount of work required to learn more about it. For that reason and others,  I was amazed and  impressed with the amount of time,  effort, research, interpretation, fact checking, organization and clarity involved in completing Dr. McGovern’s classic book.

McGovern’s book is available at San Juan Diego Bookstore, 109 W. Market St. In Warsaw.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected]

Following a medical checkup, it was determined that a seemingly common mole on my forehead proved to be a squamous cell carcinoma and best to have it removed. Once again, I was scheduled for Moh’s surgery.  I made an appointment to visit Dr. Thomas McGovern in Fort Wayne.

Besides being a surgeon, he is a prolific writer and I knew that he had recently written a book entitled “What Christ Suffered” detailing the way Christ died from crucifixion at the hands of Romans.  The book  peeked my interest and I became curious about the cruel, inhumane practice and all that it had entailed.

For those not aware of crucifixion, it can be defined as a method of execution by which a person is hanged, usually by their arms, from a cross or similar structure until dead. It has been used in many parts of the world and in many time periods, but is perhaps best known today as a method of social control and punishment in the Roman Empire around 2,000 years ago.  

According to Stephen Miller in his book “Eyewitness to Crucifixion,” “There are four gotta-have-it marks of a crucifixion. Many Christian scholars seem to agree on that much. If an execution doesn’t hit all four, it’s not a crucifixion, strictly defined. Suspension — the victim is hanging above the ground. Execution — that’s the goal, whether the victim dies or not. Wood — it might be a board or pole, with or without a crossbeam; and the victim is attached to it, whether tied or nailed. Slow death — the plan is to prolong suffering.”

Cause Of Death

There have been a number of books and articles published on the subject, most focused on the determining how crucified individuals actually died.

There have been at least 10 different theories proposed, and many published suggesting a combination of these theories. Besides cardiac rupture, other causes of death from crucifixion have been proposed: heart failure, traumatic and hypovolemic shock, syncope (fainting), acidosis, asphyxiation, arrhythmia, pulmonary embolism, suspension trauma, disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) or a combination of these.

Determining a cause of death common to all crucifixions is likely impossible because victims could be crucified in multiple positions.  Some authors have even argued that in a limited proportion of cases the victim only appeared to die, and recovered consciousness once brought down from the cross.

A majority of medical and lay articles regarding crucifixion, and specifically the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, now state that suffocation was the primary cause of death.  An in-depth analysis by McGovern and others reveals that this theory is based on a form of torture unrelated to crucifixion and that no evidence directly linking suffocation to crucifixion has been published.  Indeed, a thorough review of available ancient evidence from literature, artwork, graffiti and modern archeology and re-enactment studies reveals no evidence in favor of suffocation and much evidence against suffocation as the cause of death in typically-portrayed crucifixions, and particularly for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Written evidence for the details of crucifixion has been limited to eye witness accounts and other related written texts.  No Roman period instructions for those performing crucifixion have been preserved.  

Mcgovern’s Book

McGovern found that some of the potential causes of death have a much higher likelihood than others. Throughout his book, he describes various potential causes and stated which are more or less likely given the current evidence.

Second, he presented a general (though not specific) set of guidelines for executioners and their employees in the time of the Roman Empire that had been found inscribed in a wall in Italy.  

Third, that there are several theories about why breaking the legs of crucifixion victims hastened death, and he believes that one makes more sense than others.  

His book delves more deeply into ancient crucifixion literary references. He modestly told me that “What Christ Suffered” was the number one top seller in the religious category on Amazon. He does not stop with the physical sufferings of the Lord. He also reflects upon the mental and emotional sufferings of the Lord. He relates how the Lord experienced fear, sorrow, anxiety, and mental distress. Because McGovern finds the Lord as the true God and true man, he willingly chose, in his Passion and death, to suffer the human sufferings that mankind  all experience.

Final Thoughts

Although I have never studied religion, I am aware of the amount of work required to learn more about it. For that reason and others,  I was amazed and  impressed with the amount of time,  effort, research, interpretation, fact checking, organization and clarity involved in completing Dr. McGovern’s classic book.

McGovern’s book is available at San Juan Diego Bookstore, 109 W. Market St. In Warsaw.

Max Sherman is a medical writer and pharmacist retired from the medical device industry.  His new book “Science Snippets” is available from Amazon and other book sellers. It contains a number of previously published columns.  He can be reached by email at  [email protected]

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