NEW EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES IN
Fredrick T. Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D.
Scientific Method ( Fig. 1 ) is defined as “The
principles and empirical processes of discovery and demonstration considered
characteristic of or necessary for scientific investigation, generally involving
the observation of phenomena, the formulation of a hypothesis concerning the
phenomena, experimentation to demonstrate the truth or falseness of the
hypothesis, and a conclusion that validates or modifies the hypothesis.
Microsoft Bookshelf 1988).
problem with several of Barbet’s hypotheses is they have never been subjected to
the tenets of the scientific method.
BARBET’S ASPHYXIATION HYPOTHESIS:
( 1 ) fulfilled the first step in the
gathering the following information; First, Austro-German Army soldiers and a
prisoner at Dachau who were punished by suspending them by their hands had to
periodically raise their bodies up in order to exhale and when they could no
longer raise up they died of asphyxiation. Secondly, the bifurcated image of the
hand wound found on the Shroud was interpreted as representing two
positions on the cross; a sagging and a straightening position and lastly,
he assumed that the legs of the two thieves that were crucified with Jesus were
broken to prevent them from raising to breathe.
specious, a priori suppositions are easily refuted scientifically in that
the Austro-German Army soldiers and Dachau prisoner were free
hanging with their hands suspended directly above their head (not at an
angle of about 65 degrees with the stipes) and their feet were hanging free.
Moreover, the bifurcation pattern ( Fig. 2 ) is located on the back of
the hands where the hands are secured to the patibulum which would result in a
mass of blood and not two perfectly defined streams, and lastly, the legs of the
Giv at Ha excavation of the crucified Jew were broken and reconstruction by the
both Haas( 2 ) and Zias and Sekeles ( 3 ) showed that the
crucarius was already nailed in a raised position.
second step of the scientific method was to ask
How did the crucarius die and why? He then formulated his
crucarius died of asphyxiation
because he assumed two positions on the cross; a sagging position
and a straightening position and when he could straighten no
longer, he died of asphyxiation. Barbet’s definition of
sagging refers to the drop from the horizontal position (arms parallel
to the patibulum) to about 65 degrees and the knees bent to an angle of about
and the straightening position as a raising to a position of about
70 degrees. Barbet hypothesized that in the sagging position, the
crucarius was unable to exhale, requiring him to push up with his feet in order
to expel the air from his lungs (straightening position) and when
he could raise himself no longer, he died of asphyxiation.
However, instead of proceeding to the next step,
of the scientific method,
EXPERIMENTATION , ANALYSIS OF DATA AND RETESTING
determine the validity of his hypothesis, he skipped this most important step
and proceeded directly to the
that the crucarius died of asphyxiation based entirely on his a priori
speculations as discussed above.
Unfortunately, no one after Barbet made any attempts to confirm Barbet’s
speculations by experimentation as is required by the scientific method
prior to our
extensive suspension experiments which repudiated Barbet’s conclusion by
demonstrating that there was no evidence of breathing difficulties when
volunteers were suspended on a very accurate cross and a series of sophisticated
tests including, arterial blood gases, ear oximetry, venous blood chemistry
profiles, Douglas bag studies, etc. showed either an increase or no significant
change in the oxygen content of the blood ( 4, 5 ).
Instead, myriads of magazine articles,
journal articles, lectures and
television documentaries have repeatedly accepted Barbet’s hypothesis as
fact. When I read the voluminous literature based on Barbet’s sacrosanct
speculations, I, sometimes wonder if I am not committing a sacrilege
when I question them.
BARBETS HYPOTHESIS THAT THE PALMS OF THE HANDS CANNOT SUPPORT
THE WEIGHT OF THE BODY IN CRUCIFIXION?
Barbet’s ( 1 )
that the hand wound image was in the wrist area on the Shroud
instead of on the palm of the hand as has been generally depicted on crucifixes
and paintings and that the palmar aponeurosis did not appear to be strong enough
to hold the weight of the body if the nail entered through the palm directed him
to the question, “If the palms are nailed to the patibulum at an angle of
about 65 degrees with the stipes, would they hold the weight of the body or
would the nails pull through? He then formed the
that the palms
of the hands would not support the weight of the body if the hands are nailed to
the patibulum at this angle. In this hypothesis, he did proceed to testing by
where he drove a nail through the middle of the palm using
only one freshly amputated arm ( no clinical history as to its condition
was given ) and suspended an 88 pound weight (about half the weight of a 176
pound person) from the elbow and found that it tore through after about
ten minutes and a couple of shakes. He collated this with mathematical
calculations for a man suspended at an angle of about 65 degrees, which he
indicated would result in a pull of about 209 lbs. on each hand (tension
formula: wgt. of body
2 x cos.65°).
entirely from only one case and improper use of the tension
formula, that the palms of the hand could not support the weight
of a crucarius. This conclusion was totally based on the suspension
of only one amputated arm that was most likely, gangrenous, a mathematical
formula that is only applicable to a free hanging person where the feet
are not secured to the stipes and the hand wound image on the Shroud that
appears to be in the wrist and not the palm. Barbet would entertain no
other possibilities and attributed the role of the legs in decreasing the amount
of pull on the hands as negligible ( 1 ). A point of great
importance is that no mention was ever made regarding the condition of the
freshly amputated arm as to whether gangrene was present or not. Again,
of magazine articles,
journal articles, lectures and television documentaries have repeatedly
proclaimed this hypothesis as fact.
The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that Barbet’s
“Asphyxiation Hypothesis” and his hypothesis that the palms of the hands
could not support the weight of the crucarius during crucifixion are both
Recent Experimental Studies:
The first experiment
was conducted to
determine whether the position assumed by our volunteers on the
cross corresponded to the sagging position of Barbet in order to avoid
comparing apples with oranges. Barbet, describes the sagging
position as the drop from the horizontal (arms parallel to patibulum) to about
65 degrees and where the knees are bent to an angle of about 120° ( 1
). Our volunteers were allowed to suspend fully by the hands in the
gauntlets at which time an assistant bent the knees and slid the heels upward
against the stipes until the soles were secured to the cross at the lowest point
possible with a seat belt at this level (a series of openings are present along
the sides of the stipes at different levels to insert the seat belt restraints
at the corresponding level). This was repeated with one foot on top of the
other. This is important because our extensive suspension experiments that
utilized numerous volunteers, revealed that there was no difficulty in breathing
during suspension. It is also serves as a basis for experiment two.
volunteers utilized in this experiment dropped to a position of 65 degrees with
the stipes and the knees were bent to an angle of 120°+/-2°.
These positions corresponded to the sagging position hypothesized by Barbet.
The second experiment was conducted to determine
whether it was possible to straighten the body from the sagging position
proposed by Barbet
( 1 ).
The selected volunteers in experiment one
were requested to straighten
the body as hypothesized by Barbet. They were told to push against
the foot restraints as hard as they could as if their life depended on it. This
was repeated this with one foot placed on top of the other.
Results: Some of the volunteers
tried several times. None of the volunteers who were suspended according to the
criteria postulated by Barbet was able to straighten their body no matter
how hard they tried or with multiple attempts. This appears to be due
to the fact that with both feet secured to the stipes or with one foot on top of
the other and the knees bent , the range of motion limitation for straightening
has been exceeded which precludes any type of straightening or pushing mechanism.
The third experiment was
designed to determine whether the angle of the wrists would change during the
straightening and sagging positions indicated by Barbet ( 1 ) to account for the
bifurcation pattern on the Shroud (Fig.
2. ) and if so, to determine the degree of change.
We secured the hands firmly against the patibulum and then requested that they
attempt to straighten themselves according to Barbet’s hypothesis as if to
breathe with both feet against the stipes and then with one foot on the other.
Since the volunteers were unable to do this, we had to lift them around and
under the back of the thighs while pushing against the knees and observe whether
there was a change in the angle of the wrists is
another experiment conducted to determine whether the bifurcation pattern
represents the sagging and straightening position as postulated by Barbet (Fig.
We noted in every instance that there was no change in the
angle of the wrists; instead, in the far majority of the cases, the arms bent at
the lateral articulations between the radius-ulna and proximal carpal bones
and in a few cases they bent at the elbows. In this regard, although
experiment two demonstrates that it is not possible to straighten from the
sagging position therefore refuting Barbet’s hypothesis that the
“bifurcation pattern” represented proof that the crucarius assumed two
positions, (one arm of the bifurcation representing the sagging positions and
the other arm representing the straightening position), this experiment
demonstrates that even if it were possible for the crucarius to straighten,
there is no change in the angle of the wrist further refuting this phase
of Barbet’s hypothesis.
The Fourth experiment
was conducted to determine the exact pull on each hand during suspension when
free hanging and when the feet are secured to the stipes together and with one
foot on top of the other because we had observed that the pain in the arms and
shoulders were severe when our volunteers were suspended without feet support (Fig. 4
) and markedly
reduced when the feet were secured (Fig.
Leather gauntlets were firmly tied on the hands of four male volunteers
weighing between 174 and 204 lbs., all of whom were selected because their arms
dropped to an angle of
with the upright and their knees bent to an angle of 120°
in accordance with Barbet’s criteria. These volunteers were prepared in the same
manner as in our previous experiments ( 4, 5 ).
They climbed on the table with their backs against the stipes and
outstretched their arms parallel to the patibulum to find the numbered
hole corresponding to their arm lengths. Two Omega Digital Programmable Strain
Gage Panel Meters (DP-25S) with a + / - accuracy of .03% were each
attached by cables to two all stainless steel “S” Beam Load Cells with openings
at each end and of very high accuracy, each with a capacity of 500 lbs.(
Figs. 6, 7 ). The meters were fully programmed and calibrated prior
to suspension. The length of the load cells from eye to eye measured
about 4 inches. One eye of each load cell was attached to a nylon rope on
the back of each gauntlet and the other eye on each was attached to the spikes
on the cross-piece. The table was gently removed and the volunteer was allowed
to suspend fully. Readings
were taken from the strain gage panel meters and recorded. Then,
an assistant bent the knees of the volunteers and slid the heels upward against
the stipes until the soles were flush to the cross at the lowest point possible
and the feet secured at this level ( Fig. 8 ). This was repeated
with one foot on top of the other.
Readings were taken from the strain gage panel meters and
Results: The results of this experiment is shown in
the following table:
PULL ON HANDS
[ MEASURED ]
PULL ON HANDS
( COS q
238 / 239 lbs
221 / 222 lbs
209 / 210 lbs
69 / 70lbs
202 / 203 lbs
66 / 67 lbs.
One: TENSION (PULL) ON EACH HAND
When the volunteers are
suspended by the hands without securing the feet (free hanging), the results of
the tension formula and the strain gauge
measurements are in total agreement. However, when the feet are secured,
the strain gauge measurements, reveal a pull less than 1/3 of the values
obtained by the tension formula for free hanging. The pull on
each hand (at 65 degrees with the stipes) in volunteers weighing from 174 to 204
lbs. varied from 61 to 72 lbs.
The asphyxiation hypothesis of
Barbet is totally based on the premise that the crucarius must repeatedly
straighten himself on the cross from the initial sagging position in
order to expel the air from the lungs and is totally based on
Austro-German army and Dachau concentration camp observations
and the bifurcated pattern shown on the hand wound on the Turin Shroud.
This hypothesis had never been
experimentally tested by Barbet or anyone else as is required by the Scientific
Method. Yet, myriads of articles in the Shroud, archaeology and religious
literature as well as on television documentaries have repeatedly
proclaimed Barbet’s hypothesis as fact. In our extensive suspension experiments
where the position of our volunteers on the cross were completely in
accord with the sagging position postulated by Barbet (1 ), there was no
difficulty breathing. Forensic medical reconstruction of all the factors from
Gethsemane to Calvary clearly demonstrate that traumatic and hypovolemic shock
were the harbingers of death and not asphyxiation.
demonstrates that that the position on the cross of our volunteers corresponds
to the sagging position hypothesized by Barbet (arms about 65°
with the stipes and the knees bent at an angle of about 120°
) and Experiment Two demonstrates that it is not possible to
straighten from Barbet’s sagging position. This appears to be due to
the fact that with both feet secured to the stipes or with one foot on top of
the other and the knees bent , the range of motion limitation for straightening
has been exceeded which precludes any type of straightening or pushing
mechanism. It is also obvious that it would be virtually impossible to
straighten the body from the sagging position since the arms of the
crucarius were so far extended. This experiment also demonstrates that if
volunteers who were in good physical condition were unable to push or pull up to
straighten themselves no matter how hard they tried when the feet are secured to
the stipes or with one foot on top of the other, how could an injured, exhausted
person particularly one in severe pain and
nailed through the hands and feet have the strength to
straighten from a sagging position. This should completely repudiate the theory
of straightening and sagging as proposed by Barbet. Therefore, it
doesn’t matter how long the crucarius was on the cross and in what physical
condition he was in, because it is not possible to straighten as proposed
by Barbet and even if it were possible, there would be no reason to
straighten because simply stated, there is no problem breathing in the
Moreover, it is of considerable
interest to note from a forensic pathology
point of view, that even if our volunteers had been able to straighten
themselves, this still would not support Barbet’s hypothesis for the following
reason. In the case of an actual crucifixion, the feet and hands would be
markedly, swollen and exquisitely painful within a short time of nailing and
would progressively become more swollen and painful with time. Any pressure
exerted against the nails would be intolerable.
It is widely disseminated that
the bifurcation pattern of the hand wound supported Barbet’s hypothesis
for sagging and straightening; one arm of the bifurcation
representing the sagging position and the other arm representing the
straightening position. It seems obvious that if it is not possible
to straighten from the sagging position, then the
bifurcation pattern cannot be used to support the sagging and
straightening hypothesis. In this regard, experiment three was
effected to further repudiate Barbet’s claim that the bifurcation image on the
hand represented the two positions on the cross because when we physically
lifted the body and straightened the knees of the volunteers (since it was not
possible to straighten themselves), there was a bending at the lateral
articulations between the radius-ulna and proximal carpal bones and in a
few cases at the elbows without any change in the angle of the wrists. It is of
interest to also note that the crucarius would have had to straighten himself by
pushing against the nails in excess of 360 times during the 6 hours
on the cross even if he took only one breathe per minute.
demonstrated that , the tension formula used by Barbet to determine
the amount of pull exerted on each hand is only applicable when the crucarius is
hung by the hands alone without securing the feet to the stipes and is not
applicable during suspension when the feet are secured. When Barbet
applied a weight of 88 lbs. to an amputated arm that was pierced by a nail
through the palm, the nail pulled through between the fingers after ten minutes
and a couple of shakes. Barbet related, “Now, it was not the weight of
88 lbs. but of nearly 209 lbs. which was dragging on each nail in the hands of
the Crucified”…………“The objection will be made that the body of the Crucified was
dragging entirely on the hands. I am not speaking here of the fixing of
the feet, which could not appreciably relieve the dragging. The knees were bent
and the nail in the feet only supported a negligible part of weight; its main
use was to prevent the feet from leaving the cross.” ( 1. )
The data in Table One completely repudiates
I have always had many
reservations about Barbet’s amputated arm because it was only performed one time
on a single arm. Amputations of arms are exceedingly rare in medicine and are
primarily reserved for instances of gangrene due to obstruction of the
vascular supply by disease or from severe traumatic circumstances. In such
cases, the ischemic tissues would offer less resistance than normal tissues and
should tear through the hands at a lower force than through the normal tissues.
I am, however, quite skeptical of Barbet’s experiment because If this assumption
is true, then individuals even in excess of 225 lbs. could be nailed through the
palms without tearing through. However, even If Barbet is correct, that
about 88 lbs. will tear through the hands, it is possible that individuals up to
225 lbs. (by extrapolation), can be nailed through the palms at an angle
of 65 degrees with the upright without tearing through if both feet are
secured to the stipes individually or with one foot on top of the other.
The location of the hand wound
image in the wrist area has been used ad infinitum to support
authenticity of the Shroud because of the widely disseminated false information
that the palms of the hands will not support the weight of the body. These
experiments demonstrate that the palms will support body weights at least up to
about 225 pounds. Therefore, the presence of the wound image in the wrist area
on the Shroud should not be used to support
authenticity because of the results of these experiments and because
anyone versed in ancient history would know that crucifixions were performed in
many different ways. We do however, know that
according to Blinzler ( 6 ) and Hewitt ( 7
) as quoted by Hengel in his scholarly book on
crucifixion. ( 8. ) that it was the rule
in Roman times to nail the victim both by the hands and feet. This was
done through the palms with and without rope supports, through the wrists
between the radius and ulna bones of the forearm, by ropes alone and in
unintended regions of the hand if there is intensive struggling. A missionary
from India who was an eye witness to crucifixions in the Sudan recently informed
me that the victims were nailed through the palms with ropes tied around the
wrists for further support (personal communication).
recent experiments demonstrated the following:
1. During suspension
our volunteers are in the sagging position as postulated by
2. It was not physically possible for our
volunteers who were in excellent physical condition to straighten
from the sagging position. Moreover, in an actual crucifixion,
the feet and hands would be swollen, exquisitely painful making
straightening literally intolerable.
3. The bifurcation pattern is not due to sagging
and straightening as stated by Barbet.
Experiments using state of the art, programmable
strain gages attached to “S” beam load cells revealed that the tension
formula for determining the amount of pull on each hand during suspension is
only applicable when the legs are free hanging but not when the feet are secured
to the stipes. The amount of pull on each palm of four volunteers
weighing 204, 190, 180, 174 lbs., during suspension, where the arms were at an
angle of 65 ° with the upright and both feet were secured to the upright,
either together or with one foot on top of the other, with the knees at an
angle of about 120° was 78/79 lbs., 72/73 lbs., 69/ 70 lbs. and 66 /
67 lbs., respectively. If Barbet is correct that a force of 88 lbs.
will pull through the hand then by extrapolation of our data, the nails should
not pull through the palms up to a weight of 225 lbs. Since arm
amputations are only rare and done primarily in cases of gangrene due to
obstructive vascular disease, cases involving severe trauma and in cases of
certain malignancies, it is reasonable to assume that the palms would hold more
than 88 lbs if the tissues were normal.
1. Barbet, P. Doctor at
Calvary. New York:
P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1953; New York: Image Books, 1963.
2. Haas, N. "Anthropological
Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv'at haMivtar. " In Discoveries and
Studies in Jerusalem, 1970,
20(1‑2) (Jerusalem, Israel):38‑59.
Zias, J., and E. Sekeles. "The Crucified Man from Giv' at ha‑Mivtar."
4. Zugibe, F. T The
Cross and the Shroud. A Medical Examiner Investigates the Crucifixion.
Angelus Books: Garnerville, New York, 1982.
5. Zugibe, F.T. Death by Crucifixion. Canadian Society
Forensic Science Journal 17(1983):1‑13.
6. Blinzler, J. Der
1969; Et of 2nd ed.
7. Hewitt, J.W. The Use of
Nails in Crucifixion, HTR 25, 1932, 29-45.
8 Hengel, M. Crucifixion
in the Ancient World and the Folly of the Message of the Cross. Fortress
Press, Phil. 1977.
9. Barbet, P. Les cinq plaies du Christ.
Second ed. Paris:
Procure du Carmel de IAction de Graces, 1937.