Immediately after Pilate - reluctantly - had decided that Jesus was to be executed, he was whipped, led out to Calvary (Golgotha), and crucified. Or was he? I will take a closer look at what happened.
Jesus crucified bewteen two thieves, A Strasburgian painter, possibly Hermann Schadeberg, around 1412. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France.
In English the word for the place of execution is often given as Calvary, where the Danish and other translations uses the word Golgotha (Golgata in Danish). The English words stems from latin Calvariae Locus, the part of the skull that covers the brain. The Danish word comes from Aramaic word Golgotha, meaning "The place of the skull". In this article I will refer to the place by this name. Anyway, let me get to the story.
According to Matthew, after the
sentencing by Pilate, Jesus was led into the castle by Pilate's soldiers, who
undressed him, gave him the crown of thorns, mocked him, and struck him on the
head with a staff. Then they dressed him in his own clothes and he was led out
to the crucifixion. Markus roughly agrees, but says that the entire guard was
assembled before the insults began. Luke knows nothing at all about any crown of
thorns or any insults. In Luke Jesus was just handed over to the Jews who led
him out to Golgotha. Also in John, Jesus was handed over to the Jews and neither
in this gospel, was he crowned with thorns or mocked.
Also Mark lets "them" (apparently the Roman soldiers) force another man, Simon of Cyrene who "was passing by on his way in from the country" to carry Jesus' cross. "They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it" Incidentally, it is remarkable that the modern translation in Biblica Online has changed the text of Mark 15.22. In King James' Bible the text is instead: "And they bring him unto the place Golgotha, which is, being interpreted, The place of a skull." In this translation as well in the Danish, the word "him" clearly refers back to Simon of Cyrene, not to Jesus. So it is Simon who was led out to Golgotha. He was then crucified. The inscription on the cross, with the accusation against him just said "The King of the Jews". Mark also has the story of the two men who were crucified with Jesus to fulfill an ancient prophecy. (Mark 15.22-27) In King James' the two men were identified as "thieves/robbers", while in Biblica they are called "rebels". I will get back to this below.
Luke roughly agrees with Mark. In this gospel, however, Simon explicitly followed behind Jesus with the cross. In Luke, Jesus was followed on his way by a large crowd, including many women who wept and wailed until Jesus asked them to stop by telling a parable. When they came to Golgotha, Jesus and the two "criminals," as Luke calls them, were crucified. Luke lets the criminals be led to Golgotha with Jesus, which sounds reasonable as they were to be executed together. (Luke 23.26-33) In the other Gospels, you get the impression that the two were already in place when Jesus arrived.
John emphasizes - in contrast to the synoptic gospels - that Jesus himself carried the cross all the way to Golgotha and does not mention Simon of Cyrene at all. Jesus was crucified between "two others", but John does not mention whether they were robbers, criminals or rebels. In John, the high priests protested in vain against the inscription on the cross "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", which was abundantly written in three languages, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. The high priests of the Jews now said to Pilate, "Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews." Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written" (John 19.17-22).
All the Gospels agree that
after crucifying Jesus, "they" shared his garments among themselves. None of the
synoptic gospels specify who "they" are, but John, apparently knew who "they"
were. He tells that the clothes were divided into 4 parts apart from the robe,
on which lots were drawn. (Here the Biblica has "undergarment" while King James
has "coat" and Danish has "kjortel" which translates to "kirtle"). The
surprising thing is that John knows that it was soldiers who shared the clothes.
Surprising because John has previously said that it was the Jews who had led
Jesus to Golgotha and crucified him. John does not mention the Romans with a
single word until this time, when it is suddenly Roman soldiers who crucify
Jesus and share his clothes.
The words of Jesus on the cross
While Jesus was hanging
on the cross, he made various short statements known as "the words" or "the
sayings". Unfortunately, the Gospels do not agree in this matter either, but why
should they also agree on thia when they are different everywhere else?
According to Matthew, it went as follows:
About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” (Matt. 27.45-47 and Mark. 27.33-35). Mark has Eloi instead of Eli though but besides from that the two stories are the same. The statement is a quote from Psalm 22 in the Book of Psalms. In the Apocryphal Gospel of Peter, Jesus' words are given as "My power, my power! Why have you forsaken me", but this can be explained by the fact that the word Eli in Aramaic can be translated to both God and power. It is stated that the psalm in the days of Jesus was often used in case of deaths, so perhaps it is a later addition, an indication that Jesus really WAS dead.
According to Luke, Jesus made
several statements while hanging on the cross.
Also John quotes more
statements that Jesus uttered on the cross. First, Jesus said to his mother and
the "the beloved disciple":
As the gospels, except for Matthew and Mark don't give the same sayings from the cross, it is hard to make any decision of in what sequence the sayings were made, but ordinarily scholars sequence them like this:
Actually we don't know if Jesus said any of these as none of the authors of the gospels were present at the cruxifiction, so maybe they are all invented. Some could be real though. Personally I believe that at least one of John's sources were an eyewitness to some of the events in Jerusalem, so I actually believe that the two statements in John, "I am thirsty" and "It is finished", might be real. Anyway, scholars usually divide the sayings into seven themes with one saying in each theme:
1. Forgiveness, 2. Salvation, 3. Relationship, 4. Abandonment, 5. Distress, 6. Triumph and 7. Reunion
Jesus draws his last breath
After Jesus' death, Matthew
becomes completely exalted. "At that moment the curtain of the temple was
torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs
broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city
and appeared to many people." (Matt. 27.51-52) The officer and the guards at
the cross got terrified and acknowledged that Jesus was the Son of God.
* This is actually very strange, as the Romans wanted the bodies of the crucified to remain on the cross until the flesh were rotted and the bones fell apart, so they could serve as warnings to others, not to rebel against the Roman empire. So maybe the whole story is false - or maybe some kind of bribe was in place.
That is what the gospels tell
us. There are many more details, and some of these I will return to later. But
what to believe about these events? There are already many who have wondered
about this, and they have come to many different conclusions. Ranging from
assumptions that all the narratives are the pure and simple truth, however it
may be possible, when they are often in conflict with each other, to all
narratives being "lies", written many years after the events.
But what then is the truth behind all the theological ornamentations of the Gospels? As I have previously mentioned in the article on the trial against Jesus, we can exclude all narratives that indicate that it was the Jews who were responsible for the crucifixion. Jews had the right to judge blasphemy and had the right to execute blasphemers by stoning or by beheading, but neither were they allowed to nor would they use crucifixion, as it be deeply contrary to their religious laws and if a man was "hanged on a tree" he was not to hang there overnight: "His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance." (Deuteronomy 21.23) which is why the Jews wanted the three men taken down before sunset, when the sabbath began. So in my opinion it is absolutely certain that Jesus was executed by the Romans. They even wrote the crime on his cross, which is also entirely in keeping with Roman tradition. In contrast, the Gospels contain no indication that Jesus was whipped before he was crucified as the popular notion is, which the romans sometimes but rarely did to weaken the criminal before the cruxifiction. Jesus my have been crowned with thorns and beaten in the head with a stick, but even that is actually unlikely. He was taken to the execution site by Roman soldiers, and even the Gospels who otherwise believe that it was the Jews who were responsible for the execution, "admit" that it was Roman soldiers present at the place of execution. Jesus was executed for being the King of the Jews, which was a crime against the Roman Empire. And then it kind of doesn't matter if he WAS the king of the Jews or if he was just called the king of the Jews. Both would lead to the same punishment.
Where was Golgotha located?
According to Roman tradition, the condemned himself carried his "cross" to the place of execution. The Gospels tell us that Jesus himself (or a substitute) carried the cross from Pilate's castle to Golgotha. However, it was not the whole cross, but only the crossbeam. So it was with other executions, and so it must have been in the case of Jesus. In modern times, experiments have actually shown that even a very well-trained person (who is probably both bigger and more muscular than the Jews 2000 years ago), could only drag a cross a few hundred meters before he had to give up. Today, no one knows exactly where Golgotha was, but it has certainly been more than 200 meters from Pilate's castle. Most people think that Golgotha was where the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is found today, but there is actually no archaeological or historical evidence to confirm that. It might as well have been somewhere else and that was most likely the case. The Romans had a tradition of crucifying criminals along busy roads, just outside the city gates so that they could serve as a warning to travelers who was approaching the city. This has probably also been the case on this occasion, so Golgotha must have been near one of the roads that led into and out of Jerusalem. The name means, as it also appears from the Gospels, "skull place", but whether it was because it resembled a skull, or because skulls from other executions was found there, is not known. Another explanation is that this was the place where Adam's Tomb was and where his skull was buried. Finally, there is also a theory that the name is simply misunderstood; that it should in fact come from the Aramaic term Gol Goatha, which simply means the mountain of execution, which I find likely.
The location of the place of execution is therefore uncertain. The tradion that places it at the site of Church of the Holy Sepulchre dates from as late as 325, from a description of the Empress Helena, mother of Caesar Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus Augustus, better known as Constantine the First or Constantine the Great. Before the church as built, Emperor Hadrian built an Athena Temple on the site, but Christians believe that Hadrian had this built at Golgotha to mock the Christians. However, today some scholars suggests that the temple simply had been built according to Roman customs near the main north-south road through the city and next to the Roman square (Forum), of which there are still remains near the Holy Sepulchre. Thus, the temple had nothing to do with Golgotha. It is also a problem that the place is located within the city's old walls and not outside, as the Gospels claims. Various scholars have explained this by saying that Hadrian had just enlarged the city to get Golgotha within the city wall so that he could build his temple within the city wall according to Roman tradition, and still mock the Christians, but modern archeological excavations do not suggest that there was a city wall inside the place where the Holy Sepulchre is today and given the geography it would also have been impractical as the place is located on a slope that any attackers could have used to climb a possible wall.
General Gordon's Golgotha which actually looks as a skull. The crosses would have been raised on top of the hill, where there is now a cemtery.
In 1882, General Charles Gordon
believed to have found Gogotha, where now the "Garden Tomb" is located outside
the city walls near the Damascus Gate. According to Gordon, the tomb was to be
the one where Jesus was actually buried and Golgotha was a high cliff near the
tomb. This cliff had (and has) three large depressions, which may look like eyes
and mouth in a skull if seen from the right angle, and one can also imagine a "nose".
(See this picture from Wikipedia. The "skull" is seen in the middle of the
picture just to the left of the sign and Jesus should have been crucified at the
top, where there is now a cemetery).
Who carried the cross?
The Synoptic Gospels all agree
that Simon of Cyrene carried the cross, whether he was forced to do so (as the
Gospels believe) or did so voluntarily (as some scholars believe). However, John
emphasizes that Jesus himself carried the cross all the way. Traditions from
medieval times will know that Jesus initially carried the cross himself, but
became tired. Then the Romans wanted another Jew to carry it, but this man
refused, and mocked Jesus instead. This man, who is sometimes called Ahasuerus,
sometimes Cartaphilus and sometimes by completely different names, became "The
Wandering Jew" or "The Eternal Jew" because Jesus said to him "I will rest,
but you must continue until the last day".
Did Simon of Cyrene replace Jesus on the cross?
The Qur'an says, "And they said we have killed the Messiah Isa son of Maryam, the Messenger of God. They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, though it was made to appear like that to them; those that disagreed about him are full of doubt, with no knowledge to follow, only supposition: they certainly did not kill him. On the contrary, God raised him unto himself. God is almighty and wise." (Quran 4:157–158) Some interpret it as if Jesus did not remain on the cross long enough to die and therefore was alive when he was taken down, and thus was alive when he was brought up to Allah. Others believe that he was was alive when he was taken down, but later died, and thus was dead when Allah picked him up. There are also Muslims who believe that Allah made those involved believe that they crucified Jesus, but in reality they did nothing. Finally, there are some who believe that he, who was crucified, actually died on the cross, but was not Jesus at all because Allah had imprinted Jesus' looks on someone else. Som say Simon, while other indicated Judas Iscariot without directly mentioning the name. Most don't indicate though, that the unknown man would have been Simon of Cyrene, but another source do! Most Muslims believe, that Jesus never died but was teaken up to Allah before death appeared. There are actually some disagreements about this between different Muslim sects.
A Gnostic writing, Second
Treatise of the Great Seth, found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt in 1945 and dating from the
beginning of the 2nd century, takes a step further. It states:
Christ falling on the way to Golgotha, Raphael, 1516, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Leaving aside the very Gnostic wrapping, these lines actually just say that it was not Jesus who was crowned with thorns, that it was Simon who carried the cross, and that, although it is not entirely clear, it was also Simon, who was crucified. It may also explain some of the things that happened in connection with the crucifixion. When Jesus said he was thirsty, he was given vinegar which he drank, but immediately after drinking he drew his last breath. That does not sound likely. The death on the cross happened by suffocation. When all the weight was put on the arms, the pectoral muscles pressed on the lungs, making it impossible to breathe, but it could take several hours - sometimes even days for a crucified person to die. When simultaneously attaching the feet to the cross, whether they were tied or nailed, the crucified could carry some of the weight with the legs and in this way reduce the pressure on the chest, which would cause the process to be prolonged. Vinegar usually has an invigorating effect, and since Jesus had only hung on the cross for three hours, it seems completely wrong that something invigorating should cause his immediate death. The other crucified men were not close to dying. Therefore, the Jews asked that the legs of the crucified was broken. so that they would not hang on the cross on the Sabbath. This may sound sadistic, but in reality it was an act of mercy, because with broken legs, the crucified could no longer carry any weight on his legs, and death would therefore occur sooner. This also testifies to the fact that - contrary to what John has previously said - it was not the Jews themselves who were responsible for the crucifixion, because then they would not have had to ask anyone to break the legs of the crucified, but could have just done it themselve. "They" (presumably the Roman guards) broke the bones of the two criminals, but since Jesus was already dead, they did not have to break his legs. According to John, a prophecy that none of his bones would be broken would come true. "These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken." (John 19.36). Many other Gnostic writings also mention the substitution of Jesus by Simon, and even one of the so-called Fathers of the Church, Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, mentions the theory in his book Against Heresies from around AD 180, and he attributes it to an Egyptian Christian by the name of Basilides, who must have said it somewhat earlier, so it's a rather early tradition. Ireneaus of course did not agree, and found the idea to be heretical, which is why he mentions it in his book. Other historians from the time, claim that Irenaeus was wrong and that Basilides had never said anything about any substitution, but Irenaeus was against anything that diverged even the slightest from his own interpretation of Christianity.
As mentioned above, even Pilate, who had many crucifixions on his conscience, wondered how quickly Jesus had died. This may be explained by the fact that it was not vinegar he got, but a poison that made him seem dead, without being so. According to "The Holy Blood, the Holy Grail", Joseph of Arimathea used a Greek word meaning "living body" when he asked Pilate to have Jesus body handed over for burial, while Pilate used a word meaning "corpse". The authors of the book inteprets this as if Jesus was still alive when Joseph asked for his body, while the officer's confirmation of his death can be interpreted as meaning that the Romans believed he was dead. (Mark. 15.44). However, there is another possible explanation. Namely, that it was actually someone else who was crucified in Jesus' place. And that this other man did it voluntarily. So he was crucified for Jesus' sake, perhaps sacrificing himself to ensure that his "king" survived. As I mentioned in the article on The Trial of Jesus, it may be the person who was actually arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and not Jesus. It would also explain why "The Great Seth" can tell that Jesus was not crucified at all but hid while another was crucified in his place. This person may very well have been Simon from Cyrene. It may all have been agreed between Jesus, Judas Iscariot (I will get back to the theory of a conspiracy between Jesus and Judas in a future article) and Simon, and one of Simon's conditions may have been to ensure that the execution went quickly and did not become as long and painful as crucifixions usually were. The saying on the cross "I am thirsty" may have been a pre-agreed code, which meant "Give me the poison now, I can no longer cope with the pain". It could also explain the saying "It is finished", which perhaps suggested that now Simon had done his part, and with his death, he had saved Jesus from the Romans.
Who was present at the cruxifiction?
In addition to the soldiers who
were apparently responsible for the execution the Gospels mention several.
Markus tells of some women "who watched from a distance". Among these were Mary
Magdalene, and Mary the mother of Joses and Jacob the Little, and Salome, who
had all followed him while he was in Galilee. In addition, many other, unnamed
women. Also the high priests and the scribes must have been present, and
somewhat closer, for otherwise they can hardly have mocked and insulted Jesus.
In addition, there were also some others (unspecified), "who passed by". Matthew
tells almost the same thing, but does not mention Salome by name. He refers
instead to the "mother of the sons of Zebedee," ** so one must assume that
Salome was the mother of the two brothers. Luke is most imprecise and just
mentions a large crowd, including many women. All who knew him looked on from a
distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee. (Luke 23.49)
John mentions Mary, mother of Jesus, his mother's sister, Mary, wife of Clopas,
and Mary Magdalene. Moreover, "the disciple whom Jesus loved". Here the women
stood so close to the cross that Jesus could speak with them, but John does not
mention that any other was present.
If you were to try to deduce anything from the Gospels, you could imagine that Jesus and the other two who were to be crucified were alone with the soldiers by whom the execution was carried out, at the top of the hill where the crosses were to be erected. The soldiers would hardly have been interested in being surrounded by a crowd as they nailed the condemned to the crossbar and hoisted it into place. If, what is most likely, that there was a crowd, they would certainly have watched from a distance, probably down the hill or even further away. None of Jesus' disciples - except the "beloved disciple" - were apparently present at the crucifixion, which have made some wonder why. However, I do not. If Jesus was executed for rebellion, his closest followers would probably have been wanted as well, and then there would be every reason to stay away. Even greater would be the reason for the disciples who possibly was involved in an attempt to trick the Romans into believing that they executed Jesus. The women, on the other hand, would hardly have been wanted, and may have been present, but at a distance, as the Gospels suggest. When John places them close, it is probably because he needs to let Jesus appoint the beloved disciple to take care of his mother in the future.
Stabath Mater (The standing mother),- Women at the cross Gabriel Wüger 1868, Beuron Archabbey.
One thing that amazes not only me but also many researchers is the confusion of names surrounding those present. Let me disregard Salome and the mother of sons of Zebedee, who may, be one and the same person, but who must at least be among "the women who had followed him from Galilee" as Luke tells. Instead, I want to take a look at the many who are called Mary. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned only in John, who mentions her along with Mary, Clopas' wife, and Mary Magdalene. So three Marys. At the same time, John mentions a sister of Jesus' mother. However, the sentence construction is somewhat messy, so it is not clear whether Mary, Clopas' wife, leads back to Virgin Mary's sister, or whether it should be read as: "His mother and his mother's sister, and Mary, Clopas' wife, and Mary Magdalene", that is, four women and not three. Others have suggested that the sentence should be read as "His mother and his mother's sister, Mary and Clopas' wife, and Mary Magdalene", so that the other Mary is the sister of Virgin Mary, and in return "Clopas' wife" is another person. Again, the lack of punctuation in the original language makes interpretation difficult. Some scholars believe that Mary, Clopas' wife, should rightly be translated as Mary, Clopas' daughter, but this is less important in this context. On the other hand, it would - at least today - be a little strange if two sisters had the same name, so most researchers agree that Mary, Clopas' wife, is not the same as Virgin Mary's sister. Some of these suggest that Mary's sister may be Salome, whose presence John apparently knows nothing about. If this is correct, then the sons of Zebedee must be first cousins of Jesus and since many other disciples are related, see the article on the disciples, it would not be completely unnatural. The apocryphal Gospel of Philip, however, agrees with those who believe that Virgin Mary had a sister who was also named Mary: "There were three who always walked with the Lord: Mary, his mother, and her sister, and Magdalene, the one who was called his companion. His sister and his mother and his companion were each a Mary." However, the relationship does not become particularly clearer by the fact that in the first sentence "His mother and her sister" are mentioned while in the second sentence there is talk of "His mother and his sister". The question then is whether it was Jesus 'aunt, or Jesus' sister, whose name was Mary. If the latter were the case, it would not be unnatural, since children in a family were typically named after the parents. Incidentally, Mary, Clopas' wife, could also have been the cousin of Virgin Mary, as some Jewish scholars state, as the Hebrew and Aramaic of the time did not have a word for "cousin," but instead typically used the same word as for "sister. "In the article Was Jesus Married - and to whom I already discussed the many Marys in The New Testament.
Attempts have been made from time to time to identify Clopas, who are not mentioned elsewhere in the Gospels. Some believe that he was the brother of Virgin Mary, and thus Jesus' uncle. The woman who was accompanying them, whether her name was Mary or not, was thus the sister-in-law of Jesus' mother. Others believe that Clopas was the brother of Joseph, who was the father of Jesus, and that according to traditional Jewish custom, he had married Mary after Joseph's death. It was thus he who was the father of Jesus' siblings, i.a. Judas, James and Joseph and his sisters too. In that case, John meant with his statement that Mary, Jesus' mother and her sister were present - the Mary who was NOW Clopas' wife. In that case, the sentence construction is even more strange because it then mentions a sister between Mary and an explanation of who she was married to. There is a little "Jelling stone" over this: "King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian." Some proponents of this theory suggest that when the gospel is unclear in this place, it is because John prefers to make it look as if Virgin Mary remained untouched after the birth of Jesus, and therefore neither remarried nor had any more children. There are also some who identify Clopas with Alphaeus, who was the father of some of the disciples, and others identify him, with the Cleopas, whom the resurrected Jesus met on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24.18). If one of the last two options is correct, it does not say anything about the wife's relationship with Jesus.
Mark and Matthew add another
Mary, namely the Mary who was the mother of Jacob and Joses. This has given rise
to the concept of "The Three Marys", which accompanied the fourth Mary, the
mother of Jesus, namely 1) Mary, Clopas' wife, 2) Mary Magdalene and 3) Mary,
Mother of James and Joses. It has led some scholars to equate "the Mary who was
the mother of James and Joses" with Salome. This would be somewhat strange,
however, as Markus explicitly mentions Salome as someone other than Mary, and
mentions that she is the mother of the sons of Zebedee and none of them was
named Joses, even though one of them was named James. None of the synoptic
gospels mention that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was present during the
crucifixion. However, since it is mentioned in several places in the New
Testament that Jesus had four brothers, two of whom were named James and Joses
(Joseph), it would give more reason to equate Mary, mother of Jacob, and Joseph
and Mary, mother of Jesus. That would then imply that there were actually only
three Mary's present, not four, but in my eyes it actually sounds most likely.
Summary of my opinion
Let me end this article with a
brief summary of what I believe happened in days before and during the