Jesus’s crucifixion is one of the most famous images in history, with countless films, books and paintings having depicted the scene.
Consistently, Jesus is shown as having been nailed to cross. But as Good Friday approaches, one scholar has asked why that is it.
Meredith J C Warren, lecturer in biblical and religious studies at University of Sheffield, says that little evidence exists to back it.
In an article for The Conversation, she writes that “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.”
“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.
Constanza gemstone with the crucified Christ, surrounded by 12 apostles. (British Musem CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
“Given the relative silence on the act of crucifixion in the Gospels, this stands out as a graphic expansion. One of the only films that does not assume that crucifixion involved nails is Monty Python’s Life of Brian, which shows multiple crucifixion victims, though not Jesus, tied to their crosses.”
Warren argues that “romans did not always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses, and instead sometimes tied them in place with rope.”
“In fact,” she writes, “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 scholar also says that some gospels are inconsistent when it comes to the narrative of Jesus’s crucifixion.
“None of the Gospels in the New Testament mentions whether Jesus was nailed or tied to the cross. However, the Gospel of John reports wounds in the risen Jesus’s hands. It is this passage, perhaps, that has led to the overwhelming tradition that Jesus’s hands and feet were nailed to the cross, rather than tied to it.”
She argues that many early depictions also do not show Jesus’s hands nailed to the cross.
“Scholars think that the Constanza gemstone, as it is known, dates from the fourth century CE. In this depiction, Jesus’s hands do not appear to be nailed to the cross, since they fall naturally, as if he is tied at the wrists.”
You can read the full article here.
(Credit: Peter Gertner Crucifixion Walters)