I have been spending some time going through the work of historians Alan Wilson and Baram Blackett.
Among it, there was a reference to a story, that Jesus Christ may have survived the crucifixion, and been smuggled out of Jerusalem into Western Britain by Joseph of Arimathea and others, around AD 37
As Christianity is built entirely upon little or no physical evidence, it is notoriously, (or purposely) difficult to ‘prove’ or ‘disprove’ that Jesus Christ the man, actually existed.
Controversial Bible scholar Joseph Atwill has a theory that the New Testament stories about the life of Jesus Christ were actually an attempt by the Romans to end a series of violent uprisings in first-century Israel.
Other stories have circulated over the years which contradict the version that is generally known and recorded in the New Testament, so that would be as good a place to start as any.
The New Testament – or the Greek Testament, as it is sometimes referred to, was sanctioned by the Church, in the form that it is now recognised by, during the fourth century.
But, the various works that that make up the New Testament were written long before that, so the immediate questions that must be asked are – when exactly were they written, and by whom?
The most important parts of the New Testament are I believe, the Four ‘Gospels’.
Within these, one can find large segments about the life and work of Jesus Christ, from his birth, right through to the crucifixion and his alleged ‘resurrection’.
The original narrators do attempt to chronicle Jesus’ life in detail, although they appear to focus mainly on the last year of his life, specifically, the last week.
Two of the Gospels, also provide descriptions of Mary’s pregnancy and the birth of Jesus.
These descriptions, at least the three that were written first, are so similar in content, that it is generally agreed that they are based on each other.
All four of the Gospels, with the possible exception of Matthew, were originally written in Greek.
Jesus and his disciples spoke Aramaic, however.
So it is also generally agreed among scholars that the Bible as it is, was not written by Jesus or any of those closest to him.
The theory that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross, but faked his own death – has been around at least two hundred years, and has been argued about for at least as long.
In Germany, the theory was called ‘Die Scheintod-Hypothese’, (‘The Swoon Theory’) and was put forward by the German Theologian, H.E.G. Paulus, in three works published between 1800 and 1842.
Paulus believed that the simplest explanation was that Jesus never actually died on the cross, but was taken down alive, but unconscious.
This was not even a new theory, as two earlier works had presented a similar hypothesis.
Any theory regarding any person’s ability to survive crucifixion, would usually have to be based on contemporary witness statements or medical evidence, but in this case, actual evidence is understandably, impossible to source.
In fact, within the territories of the old Roman empire at that time, the remains of only one crucified person has ever been discovered, which appears to be the only solid evidence that crucifixion was actually practiced at all.
That was unearthed in 1968 within a bone chest, bearing the inscription ‘Yehohanan ben Hagakol’.
They contained the bones of a male who had obviously been crucified, between the years 1 and 70 CE.
His heels had been pierced with a nail, on which traces of wood were found and his legs had been broken.
No other finds from that period, and in that area have been discovered.
So that too, appears to be a dead end for researchers.
What about the actual practice of Crucifixion, would looking at that reveal any clues to back up any of these theories?
“Crucifixion is one of the oldest forms of putting somebody to death, some theorists claim it was invented by the Persians and then adopted elsewhere fairly soon afterwards, around the sixth century BCE. The Romans may have learned about Crucifixion in Carthage, and made use of it to execute rebels, slaves who rose up against their masters, pirates, other non-Roman criminals, and particularly despised enemies. As a rule, Roman citizens did not run the risk of having to suffer this most degrading and cruel methods of execution.”
What made crucifixion so exceptionally cruel, was the time it took for the crucified person to die. Generally, it took around twelve hours, but often lasted, two, three or even four days under almost unendurable pain. Opinions differ as to what was the actual cause of death, which ranged from suffocation to dehydration, coupled with other complications, such as being lashed beforehand. Shock, which was the result of blood loss, was also a factor, as death was sometimes hastened by breaking the legs of the victim.
This was considered an act of mercy.
In some circumstances, the prisoner was nailed to the cross, sometimes they were tied and there were also different types of crosses used too. Some resembled the Christian cross, a long upright pole, with a horizontal bar a little way down from the top. A ‘Titulus,’ a sign with the condemned prisoners name was often fastened above her or his head. Sometimes the horizontal bar was fixed at the top of the pole, and some victims were set up on two poles that formed an X.
Crucifixion using a single pole has been described too, and this was probably the quickest method as it almost always led to suffocation, especially if the arms were stretched out above the head.
The seat, (Sedile) which was often placed on the cross to take some of the weight off the arms, had no other function than to prolong the suffering and pain. Regardless of the construction, the idea behind crucifixion was maximum pain for the maximum time. The reason for this was to serve as a warning to the spectators and was very effective in pacifying them.
During the siege of Jerusalem, for instance, Roman soldiers tried to persuade the Jewish rebels to surrender by crucifying up to five hundred Jews every day along the walls of the city. Following the death of the victim, their bodies were left hanging and animals would often start to eat the corpse.
“Burial of crucifixion victims was not permitted. There do seem to have been exceptions, as (according to the versions that have survived) burial was so important to the Jews, sometimes the bodies were taken down before sunset and buried.”
Burial was not a common practice, however.
Even among the Romans, crucifixion was considered such a cruel form of execution that it was abandoned in the fourth century, during the rule of the Emperor Constantine.
So what really happened when Jesus of Nazareth was crucified?
Is there any evidence, written or otherwise that supports the theory that he survived, and went on to live out his life in virtual obscurity in another country altogether?
According to the Gospels, after Jesus was taunted, flogged and mocked, he then had the crown of thorns placed upon his head, and was dressed again before being taken out along the long walk along Via Delorosa to Golgotha.
It is here, that Jesus was relieved of his burden, the ‘patibulum’ (cross), by ‘a man called Simon, from Cyrene’, although why the accompanying soldiers forced a bystander to carry the horizontal bar is not explained.
The next bit is interesting, inasmuch as when the crucifixion party reach Golgotha, somebody gave Jesus “wine mixed with myrrh” (Mark), or “wine mixed with gall” (Matthew).
But “after tasting it, Jesus would not drink.”
So what was this drink?
Was it an anaesthetic?
It is recorded that when somebody was led out for execution, particularly Crucifixion, “he/she was given a goblet of wine containing a grain of Frankincense in order to be numb the senses.”
So why did Jesus refuse this drink?
There is no mention of this in the Gospels, however, so again one can only speculate on why it was refused.
So how long was Jesus said to have hung on the cross?
“It was nine in the morning when they crucified him…. At Midday a darkness fell over the whole land, which lasted until three in the afternoon; and at three in the afternoon Jesus cried aloud, ‘Eloï, Eloï, Lema sabachthani?’ Which means ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me ?’ Hearing this, some of the bystanders said, ‘listen, he is calling Elijah.’ Someone ran and soaked a sponge in sour wine and held it to his lips on the end of a stick. ‘Let us see,’ he said, ‘if Elijah will come to take him down.’ Then Jesus gave a loud cry and died;”
The above verses are from the Gospel of Mark.
Which is the only one that gives both the time of crucifixion and the time of Jesus’ death, from which, one can determine that he hung for six hours on the cross before he died.
A lot less than the twenty-four, forty-eight and seventy-two hours that it normally took somebody to die from crucifixion.
The Gospel of Mark even points out how unusually quick this was; “Pilate was surprised to hear that he had died so soon, and sent for the Centurion to make sure he was already dead.”
This information is missing from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
*Mark portrays this soldier as being very sympathetic towards Jesus, quoting his words as; “This man must have been the son of God” a portrayal which is echoed in the other Gospels, although according to Luke, the Centurions words were “Beyond all doubt, this man was innocent”… Strange words from a man who was responsible for his crucifixion, would you agree ?*
So what exactly happened when Jesus died?
When Jesus Cried out, almost at a given signal, ‘somebody’ (who?) runs off and fills a sponge with sour wine and puts it against Jesus’ lips.
Immediately after this, he stopped breathing.
This was, by all accounts, not a typical death from Crucifixion.
The fact that someone can cry out at all just before he died is also remarkable, and that aspect alone has caused scholars to comment that he actually died from a ‘ruptured heart’, caused by the heart muscle being weakened by a heart attack.
All of this is entirely possible, but is it probable?
What ALL the advocates of Die Scheintod Hypothese claim, however, is that there was something in the liquid that Jesus drank just before he ‘died’.
Something that made him lose consciousness but not his life.
The Gospels do not furnish any clues as to the identity of the person who gave Jesus this mysterious liquid, apart from the mention of “the bystanders” in the Gospel of Matthew.
The Gospel of John also adds something else:
“Because it was the eve of the Sabbath, the Jews were anxious that the bodies should not remain on the crosses, since that sabbath was a day of great solemnity; so they requested Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. The soldiers accordingly came to the men crucified with Jesus and broke the legs of each in turn, but when they came to Jesus and found he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers thrust a lance into his side, and at once there was a flow of blood and water. This is vouched for by an eyewitness, who’s evidence us to be trusted. He knows that he speaks the truth, so they you too may believe.”
So if that account is accurate, it means that if Jesus was still alive, he would have been in a better position to survive as he had not had his legs broken like the others.
It is neither probable that a dead person would start to bleed to any great amount after having their side pierced by a lance, as a stopped heart does not pump blood around the body.
So it appears that there is a great deal that is not typical about how Jesus reportedly died on the cross – it happens far too quickly – he is far too physically strong just before the moment of death, being capable of talking as well as crying out.
It is also odd that three out the four Gospel writers, find reason to mention that Jesus accepted a drink just before the moment of his death.
How likely is it that someone can survive a Crucifixion, albeit one that has been interrupted?
It has happened.
Flavius Josephus gave an example from his own life:
“And when I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealius, and a thousand horsemen, to a certain village called Thecoa, on order to know whether it were a place for a camp, as I came back, I saw many slaves crucified, and remembered three of them as my former acquaintance. I was very sorry at this in my mind, and went away with tears in my eyes to Titus, and told him of them: so he immediately commanded them to be taken down, and to have the greatest care taken of them, in order to accomplish their recovery; yet two of them died under the physician’s hands, while the third recovered.”
What happened after the Romans have judged Jesus to be dead, is of interest too.
A new person is introduced into the story, one that the Gospel writers give limited information about, so very little is known about him.
This man, described in the Gospel of Matthew as ‘a rich man,’ played an important role in what happened to the body of Jesus after the Crucifiction, asking Pilate for Jesus’ body, wrapping it in a sheet and laying it in a tomb cut out of rock and rolling a large stone across the entrance.
This man also plays a central role in the theory introduced by Alan Wilson, Barum Blackett and others, who believe that Jesus did not die on the cross as the Bible states.
The Bible does refer to this new person by name, however.
Joseph of Arimathea.
Adapted from ‘The Jesus Mystery’ by Lena Einhorn (2007)
Others who have put forward the ‘Swoon Theory’: George Moore, Frank Harris, Ernest brougham Docker, D. H. Lawrence, Robert Graves, and Joshua Podro, Hugh J. Schonfield, Donovan Joyce, J. D. M. Derrett, Holger Kersten and Elmar R. Gruber, Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Barbara Theiring, Gérald Messadié, and Helmer Linderholm.