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A cross on top of a hill

9 little known facts about Jesus' crucifixion    


Easter is one of the most important holidays in the Christian calendar. Whilst many mark it by scoffing hot cross buns, giving chocolates to loved ones and embarking on egg-themed treasure hunts, the Christian message at the heart of Easter is all about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As the Bible tells us, the Son of God painfully died on the cross before being resurrected three days later and ascending into heaven. He died for our sins and in doing so made the cross the defining symbol of Christianity.

Here, we take a look at the crucifixion of Christ and uncover some lesser-known historical facts surrounding the event.

1. Jesus was crucified at the ‘place of the skull’

According to the New Testament, Jesus was crucified at a place called Golgotha, which lay just outside of Jerusalem in Israel. In Aramaic, the language of Judea, Golgotha translated as ‘place of the skull’ as the location resembled that of a skull-shaped hill. Today, the exact location of Golgotha is still a hotly debated subject.

2. Jesus was crucified in 33 AD

Historical experts believe that Christ was crucified on Friday, 3rd April 33 AD. Although other dates have been thrown into the mix, including 7th April 30 AD and 25th April 31 AD, the most likely candidate is 33 AD due to several factors, including written contextual evidence as well as geological factors, such as an earthquake - which we’ll get to shortly!

3. Jesus died at 3pm

According to the gospels, Jesus passed away at around 3pm, after spending six hours nailed to the cross.

4. An earthquake really did happen

When Jesus had exhaled his last breath, the scriptures state an earthquake shook the lands. Matthew, Chapter 27, states: 'And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 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.’

According to geologist Jefferson Williams, seismic activity did occur during the dates around Jesus’ death. Whilst it’s impossible to say whether the earthquake happened at the very moment of Jesus’ passing, it is historical fact that seismic activity was occurring in the area during that time.

5. Pontius Pilate actually found Jesus innocent

Pontius Pilate is infamously remembered as the Roman governor who condemned Jesus to death by crucifixion. However, rather less well-known is the fact that Pilate originally found Jesus innocent according to Roman law.

It was the Jewish leaders who asserted that he was guilty of the very serious religious offence of blasphemy, according to Jewish law. They declared that Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God was insulting to God. Fearing reprisals, Pilate overturned his original decision and sentenced Jesus to death.

6. Crucifixion was not a Roman invention

The practice of tying or nailing a victim to a wooden beam or post was not one of the many inventions the Romans gave the world. In fact, this brutal form of capital punishment can be traced back to the Assyrians, one of the oldest known civilisations in the world.

During the 6th century BC, the Persians systematically used crucifixion, whilst the practice went viral (so to speak) after Alexander the Great invaded Persia and took the execution method across the Mediterranean during the 4th century BC.

The Romans discovered crucifixion during the Punic Wars of the 3rd century BC, at which point they spent the next few hundred years perfecting the gruesome art.

7. Roman crucifixion was different

Whilst they didn’t invent crucifixion, the Romans can be credited with introducing the cross design from which Jesus was eventually hung. Although they were prolific users of crucifixion, they tended to use it on subjects in the provinces - rather than their own citizens - mostly as a tactic to discourage rebellions.

In fact, the Romans took the deterrence element to the extreme by conducting mass crucifixions, none more infamous than that of the slave uprising led by Spartacus around 71 BC. After the rebellion was subdued, 6,000 crosses lined the Via Appia (the road connecting Rome to Capua).

8. Roman crucifixion was the final torture

As the gospels tell us, Jesus was publicly beaten, mocked and spat on before being made to wear a crown of thorns and carry the cross on his back.

This was usual practice for those condemned to death by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. Most victims were first stripped naked, flogged, taunted and mutilated. Abuse of the victim's family was also commonplace. Crucifixion was the final part of a horrific and inhumane execution method.

Some victims passed away from their wounds before even making it to the cross, whilst others spent anywhere from a matter of hours to days hanging upright, slowly dying of asphyxiation.

Mercy was sometimes shown by the Roman soldiers as they'd break the legs of those hanging to bring on a quicker death. This didn't happen to Jesus as when the soldiers came to check on him he was already dead. Instead, they pierced his side to ensure he was deceased.

9. It’s unlikely Jesus was nailed through his hands

Whilst the scriptures state that Jesus suffered wounds in his hands, modern scientific analysis has cast doubt over whether this method would have held Jesus in place, even with his feet being nailed as well. The nails would most likely have stripped out through his fingers under the strain of his body weight.

Instead, it has been suggested Jesus was nailed through his wrists, a stronger body part able to hold him in place. However, this contradicts the gospels and the predominant imagery of Jesus' crucifixion. Without any eyewitnesses, it's unlikely we'll ever know for sure.