Bible Review 5:2, April 1989

Two Questions About Crucifixion

Does the victim die of asphyxiation? Would nails in the hand hold the weight of the body?

By Frederick T. Zugibe

Despite the uncertainties and controversies concerning Jesus’ life and death, there is universal agreement about at least one thing: He was crucified. Yet even here questions have been raised, questions about the physical cause of death and about how people were nailed to the cross. I would like to address these two questions, or at least particular aspects of them.

Since the 1920s, it has become common wisdom that victims of crucifixion die of asphyxiation when they lose the ability to raise the chest in order to breathe.

It is also widely assumed that nails in the palms of the hands would not hold the weight of the body on the cross; the flesh would tear and pull off; therefore, the nails must have gone through the wrists in order to obtain an adequately secure hold.

Both of these propositions are incorrect.

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