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Biblical Scholar: 'Was Jesus Really Nailed to the Cross?

"Romans did not always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses..."

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A U.K. biblical studies professor is questioning whether Jesus Christ was truly nailed to the cross as is widely embraced in Christian circles.

Meredith J. C. Warren, lecturer in biblical and religious studies at the University of Sheffield in Yorkshire, opened a recent article titled, "Was Jesus Really Nailed to the Cross?" by defining crucifixion, describing it as "a Roman method of punishment" in which a victim was suspended from a large cross and "would eventually die from asphyxiation or exhaustion."

From there, Warren — who did not question whether Jesus was crucified, but only whether nails were used in the process — issued a clarification about the ways in which crucifixions were conducted, diving into what the Christian gospels recount about Christ's death.

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"Romans did not always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses, and instead sometimes tied them in place with rope," the professor wrote in The Conversation. "In fact, the only archaeological evidence for the practice of nailing crucifixion victims is an ankle bone from the tomb of Jehohanan, a man executed in the first century CE."

The Times of Israel described Jehohanan as a man in his mid-20s who committed a crime that led to crucifixion. A box that contains his bones was recovered in the 1970s and includes a nail through a heel bone — offering proof that nails were sometimes used in crucifixions.

As for Jesus' own crucifixion, Warren notes that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all discuss Christ's death, adding that the text in the Book of John does, indeed, indicate that nails were used during the crucifixion.

John 20:20 reads, "After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."

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And John 20:24-25 continues, "Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But he said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.'"

Verses 26 through 27 recount Jesus appearing and telling Thomas to look at his hands and his side and to "stop doubting and believe."

Warren also cited the Gospel of Peter — a non-canonical book that is not part of the Bible — as saying that Jesus' hands had nails in them and that they were removed after his death.

Still, Warren pushed on.

"Over the past few years, several people have claimed to have found the actual nails with which Jesus was crucified. Each time, biblical scholars and archaeologists have rightly pointed out the assumptions and misinterpretations of evidence behind these claims," she wrote. "Curiously, this fixation on the nails persists, despite the fact that the earliest gospels make no mention of Jesus being nailed to the cross."

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She noted that early depictions of Jesus do not appear to show his hands nailed to a cross, including the image on the Constanza gemstone, which dates to the fourth century A.D., though the Christian Examiner noted that none of the images mentioned by Warren show rope either, writing that her work "relies mostly on the position of the hands in the carvings."

"Since the evidence from antiquity doesn’t provide a clear answer as to whether Jesus was nailed or tied to his cross, it’s tradition that dictates this common depiction," Warren wrote. "Those who have seen the film 'The Passion of the Christ' will recall how much time the director, Mel Gibson, devoted just to the act of nailing Jesus onto the cross — almost five whole minutes."

Read all of her arguments here.

(H/T: The Conversation via The Christian Examiner)

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