By Gaye Strathearn
In antiquity crucifixion was a choice of punishment since the time of the Persians, but it was undoubtedly the Romans who perfected it as a form of torture. The Jewish historian Josephus described crucifixion as “a most pitiable death” (Jewish War 7.203).
We have numerous ancient accounts that mention crucifixion, but few of them describe the process in any detail. Nevertheless, these accounts generally corroborate the descriptions recorded in the four New Testament Gospels.
In antiquity crucifixion was performed in a number of different ways. Some victims were impaled; others were tied to a cross or a tree—sometimes they were nailed.
An ancient heel bone with a nail piercing it. From the Israel Museum.
Archaeologically, only one set of remains has been found of a person who was crucified in Palestine prior to 70 AD. We know that the person was crucified because the nail was still in the right calcaneum (or heel bone). [See the picture taken at the Israel Museum]. Sometimes the victims were crucified while alive, but sometimes it was after they were dead. Sometimes the legs were broken in conjunction with the crucifixion. By Roman times, crucifixion was preceded by flogging and the victims were sometimes required to carry the beam of the cross. Usually the bodies were left to be devoured by birds and wild animals, but in Roman times, it was possible for the family to petition to take the body and bury it once death had been verified.
Crucifixion was chosen as a form of execution, especially for murderers, thieves and traitors, and slaves because it was public and humiliating, and because the torture could be extended for long periods of time. Continue reading
By Gaye Strathearn
As I have thought about Christ’s crucifixion and the central place that Good Friday has historically and theologically held in Christianity, I would like to suggest four reasons why I believe that the cross should hold an important place in Latter-day Saint private and public discourse.
- The events on the cross are an integral part of the atonement
The most important reason that we should consider the cross is that both doctrinally and functionally, it is part of Christ’s atonement. I think that it is fair to say that traditionally Latter-day Saints have emphasized the atonement as taking part in Gethsemane. Yet the scriptures, both the Bible and Restoration scripture, repeatedly teach that the events on the cross also have an important part to play in our redemption. Paul taught the Romans that “we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. . . . by whom we have now received the atonement” (Romans 5:10–11). The Book of Mormon frequently teaches that redemption is made possible through the “sufferings and death of Christ” (Mosiah 18:2; Alma 21:9; 22:14; 3 Nephi 6:20). The Doctrine and Covenants teaches that Christ “was crucified for the sins of the world” (D&C 53:2; 54:1), and that “redemption had been wrought through the sacrifice of the Son of God upon the cross” (D&C 138:35).
All of these passages from our restoration scripture support the biblical message of Paul that the crucifixion of our Lord was an essential part of the atonement and thus was an essential part of our personal and collective redemption. Elder Holland described Easter Friday as “atoning Friday, with its cross.”
- The scriptural metaphor that we can be “lifted up” because Christ was lifted up on the cross is a symbol of God’s great love for his children.
On day two of the Savior’s visit to the Americas the Savior himself describes his gospel and the atonement in terms of the cross: “My Father sent me that I might be lifted upon the cross . . . so that I might draw all men unto me.” The context here is one of judgment, but it is also the hope that through repentance, baptism, and enduring to the end we will be sanctified by the Holy Ghost so that we “may stand spotless before me at the last day” (3 Nephi 27:16–20). In other scriptural texts we learn that the opportunity to be lifted up is evidence of God’s love for his people. When Jesus spoke with Nicodemus, he made reference to Moses’ lifting up a brass serpent to heal the Israelites, who had been infiltrated by a plague of serpents. Jesus specifically identified the act of raising up a pole with a serpent as a type of his crucifixion. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:14–15). Then note the famous verses that immediately follow: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him should be saved” (John 3:16–17). The context of this passage indicates that the evidence of God’s great love for the world is that his Son was lifted up on the cross so that they could have eternal life. Continue reading