The Roman government employed it to control mutinous troops, to subdue conquered peoples, and to wear down rebellious cities. They often crucified violent robbers at or near the scene of their crimes.
Due to aesthetic considerations—not to the rarity of this practice—descriptions of crucifixion rarely appear in ancient literature.
According to Josephus (37–100 AD), in 70 AD, Titus’s army in Jerusalem whipped, tortured, and crucified five hundred men a day until “their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses and crosses wanting for the bodies.”
In 1986, JAMA published a detailed article with this summary of the process:
Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion.
The scourging produced deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar…to Golgotha.
At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the [crossbar], after the [crossbar] was lifted onto the upright post…his feet were nailed to [it].
The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia.
Jesus’s death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier’s spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.
Confirming the gospel accounts of crucifixion, building contractors discovered an ossuary in northern Jerusalem. It contained the bones of an adult male who had been crucified between the onset of the first century AD and the mid-60s. His executioners had pierced his right heel with an iron nail and broken his shins (John 19:32).
Image via Wikimedia Commons
a) Read Matt 27:26–37. How does the Roman practice of crucifixion fulfill Gen 3:15? Why did ancient literature rarely mention this form of execution? How does knowing that Jesus willingly died in this way affect your view of him?
[Related posts include The First Good News (Gen 3:15); Equality with God (Phil 2:5–6); A Summary of Trinitarian Creeds (Appendix to Phil 2:5–6); Taking the Form of a Slave (Phil 2:7); Obedient to the Point of Death (Phil 2:8); and The Name Above Every Name (Phil 2:9–11)]
[Click here to go to Chapter 7: The Seed of the Serpent and the Seed of the Woman (Genesis 3:14–15)]
M. Tullius Cicero, Against Verres, in The Orations of Marcus Tullius Cicero (trans. Charles Duke Yonge; London: George Bell & Sons, 1903), 2.5.165, Http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0018%3Atext%3DVer.%3Aactio%3D2%3Abook%3D5.
Quintilian, The Lesser Declamations (LCL; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2006), 274.
 Joel B. Green, “Death of Jesus,” Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, 2nd ed. (DJG) (ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight, and I. H. Marshall; Downers Grove, IL; Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 147–63, 147.
Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews, in The Works of Flavius Josephus (trans. William Whiston; Auburn and Buffalo, NY: John E. Beardsley, 1895), 5.11.1, http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0148%3Abook%3D5%3Awhiston+chapter%3D11%3Awhiston+section%3D1.
William D. Edwards MD, Wesley J. Gabel MDiv, and Floyd E. Hosmer MS, “On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ,” JAMA 255, no. 11 (21 March 1986): 1455–63, http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=403315.
 Green, “Death of Jesus,” DJG, 147.