By Jim Wilson
Lately, I have noticed variants of a horrific little essay titled the Scientific Death of Jesus making its way around the internet. An excellent example, complete with illustrations is found here. It details the crucifixion of Jesus and then discusses why it is such a great thing and why we should worship the God who arranged for it to happen. The crucifixion theology is not a great thing. It is sick and twisted. I’ll explain why using the essay linked above as a starting point.
The essay claims, “Only the worst criminals could die like Jesus.” However, it was not reserved for “only the worst criminals,” anyone accused of challenging Roman rule could receive this fate. Furthermore, Pontius Pilate was a ruthless executioner who indiscriminately killed those brought before him unlike the way he is depicted in the Bible. He was not likely to petition the Jews to let Jesus off the hook. Pilate’s Jewish contemporary Philo of Alexandria referred to “his venality, his violence, his thefts, his assaults, his abusive behavior, his frequent executions of untried prisoners and his endless savage ferocity.” That Jesus met the fate of crucifixion hardly makes him unique.
The piece describes the horrible suffering associated with crucifixion, a brutal form of execution. For sake of brevity, I’ll assume it gives a fairly accurate account. In the account, “Jesus endured that reality over 3 hours. Yes, over 3 hours!” I question their three hour figure. Mark 15:25 states “And it was the third hour, and they crucified him,” while verse 34 states “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”. Therefore, he was alive for at least six hours. According to Wikipedia and various other sites, “The length of time required to reach death could range from a matter of hours to a number of days, depending on exact methods, the health of the crucified person, and environmental circumstances.” In other words, Jesus’s suffering may have been rather short compared to other victims.
According to the essay, “He had no more blood to bleed, He only poured water” and that, “Jesus poured all 3.5 litres of his blood.” These are highly specific claims to make about an event that happened 2000 years ago. It is impossible to know with any confidence the contents of Jesus’s body to that degree of accuracy.
Next the essay states, “Beyond that, a Roman soldier who nailed a spear into his chest.” While certainly possible, the historicity of this stabbing is highly questionable. The incident appears only in the gospel attributed to John, which scholars tend to recognize as differing heavily from the other canonical gospels and historically suspect. For example John’s gospel, expands Jesus ministry from one year to three years, with three distinct trips to Jerusalem. Also, John moves the infamous purification of the temple from the end of his public ministry to its beginning. While the other Gospels primarily features Jesus speaking in pithy quotes and parables, John expands these into lengthy verbatim discourses (How did he remember them?). John refers to “the Jews” as if they were some foreign group rather than people from whom the author was born and raised. John also neglects to mention such events as the transfiguration, the raising of Jarius’s Daughter and the Ascension which other Gospels claim he was one of only a few witnesses. Also John turns Luke’s parable about a man named Lazarus into and actual historical event. James Dunn, a leading New Testament scholar, notes that “Few scholars would regard John as a source for information regarding Jesus’s life and ministry in any degree comparable to the synoptics.”
To make matter worse, John States that “For these things came to pass, that the scripture might be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.” There is no prophecy preserved in the Old Testament that says a “A bone of him shall not be broken.” It is often assumed that this refers to Exodus 12:46, Numbers 9:12, which are not prophecies at all but instructions not to break the bones in a Passover lamb, or Psalm 34:20, which is says nothing to indicate that it is a prophecy of some future event. John’s statement, “and again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced” relies on a mistranslation of Zechariah 12:10. In the original verse “they look onto me, whom concerning they have pierced and they will mourn him like the weeping of a first born.” In the context it is clear that the “me” is God, and the piercing is done by the Jewish people, rather than a Roman soldier. Jews interpret this verse as being about God defending Jerusalem from its enemies at a time when the nations of the world conspire against it rather than the physical injury of a messiah figure.
The Scientific Death of Jesus concludes, “Jesus had to pass all this experience, so that you can have free access to God. So that your sins could be ‘washed’. All of them, with no exception! Don’t ignore this situation. HE DIED FOR YOU.” In other words, a man allowed himself to be brutally and humiliatingly murdered for me. Why? Christians generally state that it is because we are all indebted to God by our sins and God required this sacrifice to forgive us. This is highly problematic. Only a horrible monster would require a brutal murder to take place in order to forgive others. The need for a human blood sacrifice is a carryover from the animal sacrifices described in the Old Testament and is very much the type of cruel barbarism we should be denouncing rather than celebrating.
Christians will reply though that it is wonderful that God so willingly gave the life of his son. Did he? In the story, he clearly got his son back. He also created this son specifically for this purpose but Jesus and God are supposedly the same entity (though Jesus only ever referred to God in the third person). From the Trinitarian point of view, we are forced to conclude that God is putting on a twisted piece of theater where he is sacrificing himself to himself, in a horribly bloody manner, to save others from his own wrath. What nonsense!
Also, what is three, or six, hours of human suffering to God, to an infinite, eternal, and omnipresent being? For such a being the event would be incredibly insignificant. If Jesus existed since the beginning of time, a few hours of suffering would hardly be comparable to a pinprick. Further, if God is truly omnipresent he would experience all human suffering anyway and the suffering he experiences in this gesture would be largely redundant.
If we accept the concept of sin as valid, the notion that allowing an innocent person to be murdered as payment that somehow resolves us of responsibility is morally absurd by all convention standards. It is made worse by the fact that those who are unable to believe this horrific and outrageous set of theological claims are promised eternal punishment. The Christian God has essentially created a torture chamber that can only be escaped by pledging an eternity of praise and gratitude for allowing a brutal murder to take place.
The crucifixion narrative is rubbish. It is immoral, nonsensical, and horrendously violent. The concept of blood sacrifice, human or otherwise, has no place in an advanced society.