For 6 hours, Jesus suffered on the cross. Somewhere outside the city walls of Jerusalem, Jesus was hung on a cross. The most prominent form of capital punishment was crucifixion. It was a brutal, torturous, and usually slow means of death. Most victims of crucifixion died of suffocation caused from the inability to hold one’s torso in a position for the lungs to expand and thus prohibiting breathing.
The classic images from centuries of church history picture Jesus on the cross, with outstretched hands nailed to the beam of the cross, and with a nail through the feet. To either side of Jesus were two other crosses. Positioned beneath the cross were Jesus’ disciples as well as His mother, Mary. While we can’t be certain how high off the ground Jesus hung from the cross, most likely those gathered around Jesus were close enough to see and hear his anguish.
As to how Jesus was nailed to the cross, an interesting archaeological discovery may reveal the method. In 1968, an ossuary was found with the name of the deceased inscribed on the side of it. The name inscribed on it was Yehohanan ben (son of) Hagkol. This ossuary was found in a burial cave in northern Jerusalem. Preserved inside were the bones of Yehohanan, including the bone of his right heel. Upon closer examination, it appeared as though his right heel had been pierced by a large iron nail, to which fragments of wood were attached. The find clearly shows that this young man had been put to death by crucifixion.
After Yehohanan body was taken down from the cross for burial in the family tomb, because the nail that affixed his right foot to the post was bent and to prevent damaging his body, it as necessary to remove part of the wood post along with it.
Having his foot attached in this manner, in contrast to the traditional picture that most of us have of a crucified man receiving the nail on the top of his crossed feet and thus being fastened to the cross in this manner, this reveals that the legs were apparently separated, with each ankle being fastened to the side of the crucifixion post. Both legs were badly fractured, most likely from a crushing blow meant to end his suffering and bring about a faster death.
What’s equally interesting is that his hands show no signs of wounds, perhaps indicating that they had been tied, rather than nailed (like Jesus’ hands) to the horizontal bar. Others suggest that since his arm bones revealed scratches, perhaps he was nailed, with the nails placed right above his palms. Both the ossuary and Yehohanan’s ankle bone still attached to the crucifixion post are on display in the Israel Museum today.
On this Good Friday, may we pause to reflect upon the unfathomable suffering Jesus our Savior must have endured on the cross on our behalf. As the old hymn mentions, “He could have called ten thousand angels, to destroy the world and set Him free; He could have called ten thousand angels, but He died alone, for you and me.”
Yehohanan was probably a political dissident who died out of his love for his country. Jesus was the son of God who died out of His love for the world.