The Passion of Christ From A Medical Point of View
Condensed from an article by C. Truman Davis, M.D., M.S.
"I became interested in (the physical aspects of the passion, or suffering,
of Jesus Christ) when...I suddenly realized that I had taken the Crucifixion
for granted all these years. It finally occurred to me that, as a
physician, I didn't even know the actual immediate cause of death.
"...Pilate condemns Jesus to scourging and crucifixion. Preparations for the
scourging are carried out. The prisoner is stripped of His clothing and His
hands tied to a post above His head. The Roman legionnaire steps forward
with the flagrum in his hand. This is a short whip consisting of several
heavy leather thongs with two small balls of lead attached near the ends of
each. The heavy whip is brought down with full force again and again across
Jesus' shoulders, back, and legs. At first, the heavy thongs cut through the
Then as the blows continue, they cut deeper into the subcutaneous tissues
producing first an oozing of blood from the capillaries and veins of the skin
and finally, spurting arterial bleeding from vessels in the underlying
muscles. Finally, the skin of the back is hanging in long ribbons and the
entire area is an unrecognizable mass of torn, bleeding tissue. When it is
determined by the centurion in charge that the prisoner is near death, the
beating is finally stopped.
"The half-fainting Jesus is then untied and allowed to slump to the stone
pavement wet with His own blood. The Roman soldiers throw a robe across His shoulders and place a stick in His hand for a scepter. A small bundle of
flexible branches covered with long thorns (commonly used for firewood) are
plaited into the shape of a crown and this is pressed into His scalp.
Again, there is copious bleeding (the scalp being one of the most vascular
areas of the body). The soldiers take the stick from His hand and strike Him
across the head driving the thorns deeper into His scalp. Finally, they
tire of their sadistic sport and the robe is torn from His back. This had
already become adherent to the clots of blood and serum in the wounds and its removal causes excruciating pain just as in the careless removal of a
"In deference to Jewish custom, the Romans return His garments. The heavy
patibulum (the crossarm weighing over one hundred pounds) is tied across His shoulders and the procession...begins its journey along the Via Dolorosa. In spite of His efforts to walk erect, He stumbles and falls. The rough wood of
the beam gouges into the lacerated skin and muscles of the shoulders. He
tries to rise, but human muscles have been pushed beyond their endurance.
The centurion anxious to get on with the crucifixion selects...Simon of
Cyrene to carry the cross...The six hundred and fifty yard journey to
Golgotha is finally completed. The prisoner is again stripped of his clothes
- except for a loin cloth, which is allowed the Jews.
"The crucifixion begins...Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders
against the wood. (Crucifixes today show the nails through the palms. Roman
historical accounts have shown that the nails were driven between the small
bones of the wrists and not through the palms. Nails driven through the
palms will strip out between the fingers when they support the weight of a
human body. The misconception may have come about through a misunderstanding of Jesus' words to Thomas, "Observe my hands". Anatomists, both modern and ancient, have always considered the wrists as part of the hand.)
[Unable to display image]! "The legionnaire drives a heavy square wrought-iron nail through the wrist and deep into the wood. The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot, and a nail is driven through the arch of each leaving the knees moderately flexed. The Victim is now crucified. As He slowly sags down with more weight on the nails in the wrists, excruciating, fiery pain shoots along the fingers and up the arms - the nails in the wrists are putting pressure on the median nerves. As He pushes Himself upward to avoid this stretching torment, He places His full weight on the nail through His feet. Again, there is the searing agony of the nail tearing through the nerves between the metatarsal bones of the feet.
"...As the arms fatigue, waves of cramps knot them in deep, relentless pain.
With these cramps comes the inability to push Himself upward. Hanging by
His arms, the pectoral muscles are paralyzed, and the intercostal muscles are
unable to act. Air can be drawn into the lungs, but cannot be exhaled...Finally, carbon dioxide builds up in the lungs and the blood stream, and the cramps partially subside. Spasmodically, He is able to push Himself upward to exhale and bring in the life-giving oxygen.
"Hours of this pain, cycles of twisting, joint-rendering cramps, intermittent
partial asphyxiation, searing pain as tissue is torn from His lacerated back
as He moves up and down against the rough timber. Then another agony begins; a crushing pain deep in the chest as the pericardium slowly fills with serum and begins to compress the heart...It is now almost over; the loss of tissue fluids has reached a critical level. The compressed heart is struggling to
pump. The tortured lungs are making a frantic effort to gasp in small gulps
of air. A sponge soaked in the cheap, sour wine is lifted to His lips. He
apparently doesn't take any of the liquid. The body of Jesus is now in
extremis, and He can feel the chill of death creeping through His tissues.
This realization brings out His words ...'It is finished!'.
"His mission of atonement has been completed. Finally, He can allow His body
to die. With one last surge of strength, He once again presses His torn feet
against the nail, straightens His legs, takes a deeper breath, and utters His
last cry, 'Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit.'"