Frederick T. Zugibe, M.S., M.D., Ph.D., FCAP,  FACC,  FAAFS



FORENSIC PATHOLOGY & MEDICINE                              









"A Forensic Way of the Cross

Frederick T. Zugibe, M.D., Ph.D.  Chief Medical Examiner  Rockland County, N.Y. and Adjunct Associate Professor of Pathology Columbia University College of Physician's and Surgeons, N.Y.


Crucifixion was an ignominious, barbaric form of capital punishment that was practiced up to the fourth century by the Romans, Phoenicians, Persians, Seleucids, Egyptians, Greeks, Carthaginians and Jews when it was abolished by Emperor Constantine. Cicero referred to it  as Crudelissimum eterrimunque supplicum, the most cruel and atrocious of punishments". There, however,  appeared to be a resurgence of crucifixion  of Christians by Arabs in the seventh century during the Arabic-Christian conflicts. Isolated cases are still reported today in Africa  and  the Philippines. It is believed that the Romans learned the technique from the Carthaginians, who were known for their methods of torture which also included impaling, burning in oil, drowning and beating. In general crucifixion was reserved for slaves,  hardened criminals,  political agitators, religious agitators, pirates and those committing high treason.  Roman citizens were essentially excluded from being crucified except for high treason or serious crimes against the state and served as a highly successful deterrent against these crimes. Roman Crucifixions were carried out by specialized teams of five experienced men; the exactor mortis, a centurion who was in charge and  four soldiers , the quaternio.[1]

 The scientific discipline that deals with the mechanism and cause of death in violent deaths such as crucifixion resides in the medical specialty of  forensic pathology which requires many years of specialized education, training and experience for board certification. The forensic pathologist is a medical sleuth, an expert in reconstruction whose court testimony must possess a high degree of medical certainty  because a defendant's future or even his  life may depend on it. 

Unfortunately, the medical aspects of the Shroud-crucifixion literature is filled with a farrago of articles by unqualified individuals including surgeons, radiologists, general practitioners, psychiatrists, scientists and scholars in other areas of expertise, laymen, etc.  whose conclusions were based on anecdotal,  a priori speculations.  Barbet,[2], [3] however, did make an attempt to support some of his hypotheses with experimental data but made a series of serious anatomical errors and suppositions which unfortunately have been propagated ad infinitum in magazines, journals, books, television documentaries, etc. as definitive facts  without any attempt by anyone to verify his conclusions. Kraemer poignantly points out, " When those without adequate training in a particular field are permitted to influence progress in a particular field (even those with excellent training in another field ), the problem is not merely that they are likely to produce lies, but that their lies may impede others' search for truth in that field.  It is vital to medical research that amateur science be discouraged, that appropriate professional training  or oversight in each field be required before proposals are approved or papers accepted for publication." [4]

Let us embark on a forensic journey from Gethsemane to Calvary, in a sense a forensic way of the Cross in order to gain a more precise understanding of the effects of crucifixion and its manifestations on the Shroud.  In this regard, it is important that we examine each phase of the journey including the hematidrosis, the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the fixation to the cross, the suspension on the cross and the mechanism and cause of death. It is the sum of all the this information that affords us the way to reconstruct the various findings on the Shroud with the mechanisms encountered in crucifixion. 

GETHSEMANE: The scriptural account of the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane by St. Luke " My soul is very sorrowful even unto death, remain here and watch" (Mark 14: 34) and in.  "After a period of utter exhaustion and repeated praying,  he looked up to heaven and said  "'Father, if thou art willing,  remove this cup from me: nevertheless, not my will but yours be done. "And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him, and being in agony, he prayed the more earnestly and his sweat became like great drops of blood failing down upon the ground. "(Luke 22 :42‑44).. The most logical explanation of this phenomenon is as follows. The severe mental anxiety due to a  profound fear of His prescient sufferings activated the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stress-fight or flight reaction to such a degree causing hemorrhage of the vessels supplying  the sweat glands into the ducts of the sweat glands and extruding out onto the skin.  While hematidrosis has been reported to occur from other rare medical entities,  the presence of profound fear accounted for a significant number of reported cases including six cases in men condemned to execution, a case occurring during the London blitz,  a case involving a fear of being raped, a fear of a storm while sailing etc.[5], [6]  The hematidrosis  is a reflection of  the severity of Jesus' mental suffering.  The effects on the body is that of weakness and mild to moderate dehydration from the severe anxiety and both the blood and sweat loss.

THE SCOURGING (flagellatio) was a brutal episode. The effects of the scourging appear very vivid on the Shroud  showing dumbbell-type injuries, obviously caused by the flagrum which contains leather thongs with bits of metal or bone at the ends. The crucarius was tied by the hands to a fixed object like a pillar, bent over and lashed. The weight of the metal or bony objects would also carry them to the front of the body as well as the back and arms. The brutality of scourging can not be overestimated because these objects would penetrate the skin creating small lacerations (tears), contusions  or welts. It is interesting that there are over a hundred lashes counted on the Shroud. Does this estimate conflict with the Deuteronomy dictate (25:3) not to exceed 40 lashes?  The answer is simple. The flagrum consists of at least three thongs, each lash would cause three lash marks and 40 lashes times 3 would equal 120.  These markings on the Shroud would  be neither evidence of a bruise or welt as contended by some but instead they appear to be impressions of  small breaks in the skin resulting in "patterned injuries" like we regularly see in the practice of forensic pathology as different instruments cause different patterns. These patterns on the Shroud are a result of impressions  made by the blood present within the breaks in the skin. Such injuries are only seen at autopsy after gently washing the wounds otherwise there would be blood all over the body from these wounds obscuring the patterned impressions. . When the body is initially washed , a fine oozing of blood within the wounds would make the impressions. When the body is initially washed , a fine oozing of blood within the wounds would make the impressions.  Ultraviolet photos taken of the back image  even show numerous fine scratches that  would not be seen if the blood had not been washed from the body. This mechanism was easily demonstrated by briefly washing the wounds containing dried or clotted blood of victims of traffic accidents.[7]

The victim would fall to his knees with each lash, writhing in agony, getting up each  time until he could no longer lift himself up.  There would be convulsive activity, tremors, vomiting, and marked thirst.  Episodes of fainting would be associated with this type of flogging. The pain is so severe that many have pleaded for mercy and crying would be common. Periods of severe sweating would occur, intermittently. The severe  pain associated with injuries of this degree would be a harbinger of  traumatic shock soon to ensue and the fluid loss from excessive sweating coupled with the vomiting and sweating added to the blood loss and sweating from and the hematidrosis would cause an early stage of hypovolemia. The severe beating of the chest wall transmits to the lungs and promotes the gradual development of fluid around the lungs (pleural effusion), generally a few hours following the injuries.

THE CROWNING OF THORNS was not only a parody of Jesus' kingship but was another physical torture inflicted on Jesus. The tortuous flows on the forehead and the significant amount of blood on the head region had to have been the result of penetration of the skin by sharp thorns from a plant like those of Ziziphus spina christi (Syrian Christ thorn) or Zizyphus paliuris christi (Christ's thorn) both of the Buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae). In the opinion of leading botanists of the plants of the holy land like Evanari,[8] Post,[9] Hegi,[10] Tristram, Warburger, Moldenke[11], Schwerin[12] and even the great Linnaeus[13] were of the opinion that one or the other of the Ziziphus species were the most likely candidates. None of them even considered Gundelia tournefortii which has recently been implicated. Whether this plant is capable of penetrating the skin and inducing sufficient bleeding must be tested.  From a forensic point of view, Ziziphus spina christi (Syrian Christ thorn) or Zizyphus paliuris christi (Christ's thorn) would cause puncture-type wounds with significant bleeding when struck with the reed  ("..and took the reed and struck him on the head" Mt.27:30) accounting for the blood flows and accumulations of blood in the head region of the Shroud.

It is of interest that the thorny acacia (Acacia niltotica) that grows profusely around the hills of Jerusalem has recently emerged as a contender. A  crown of thorns made from this plant was unearthed in a sarcophagus dating to 1189 A.D. which also contained the remains of a mummified "knight of the temple"  with a bashed skull and an inscription saying "this man saved the crown of thorns from the hands of the infidel". The physical effects of the crowning with thorns using a thorn plant like Zizyphus paluris christi as an example with its sharp, closely spaced thorns would most likely cause trigeminal neuralgia (tic douloureux) due to irritation of the ophthalmic branch of the trigeminal nerve (fifth nerve) and branches of the greater occipital nerves which supply sensory innervation to the front and back of the head region, respectively. This is characterized by severe, lancinating , paroxysmal, electric shock-like  pains across the face lasting from seconds to minutes with intermittent refractory periods. Trigger zones are common in various areas of the face which trigger episodes of shooting pains across the head region if touched  and is difficult to treat medically. Severe cases may not respond to medical treatment with drugs such as carbamazepine requiring nerve blocks or ablation surgery. The severe pain would be added to the depth of imminent traumatic shock now developing from the scourging. 


THE ROAD TO CALVARY: The most direct way from the Antonia to Calvary was about a half mile. It was an unpaved, bumpy road and it has been estimated that Jesus  carried a 50 to 75 pound patibulum (cross piece) at least part of way.  Carrying the patibulum, he would fall down and get back up on his feet, only to fall again and get back up again. When one analyzes the physical condition that Jesus was in at this stage from a medical and physiological point of view, and noting that he would have to carry the patibulum weighing at least 50 pounds for a distance of almost a half mile from Antonio to Calvary by the most direct way, it would be doubtful if He could successfully complete that distance in the condition that he was in. But what is most interesting is that scriptures comes to the rescue and informs us that they delegated the job to Simon the Cyrenian to carry it the rest of the way allegedly because they doubted whether  he could make it and they obviously wanted him crucified.  At this stage he would be light headed, drenched in sweat and manifest postural instability.

 THE CRUCIFIXION:  Upon Jesus' arrival at Calvary, He exhibits a pale, mask-like appearance, is extremely weak, has severe thirst  and his whole body is wracked with pain. He is in an early  stage of traumatic and hypovolemic shock. After casting lots for his garments, they would have forced Him to the ground on his back, the patibulum placed  just under his shoulders and upper back and members of the quaternio laying on top of him to hold him down and stretching out His arms on the patibulum while they drove iron spikes through His hands into the patibulum.  This maneuver in holding Him down would cause almost unbearable pains in His chest because of the trauma from the scourging.  It is well known in emergency medicine that trauma to the chest causes severe pain with the slightest pressure on the chest wall and with  breathing.

Nailing the Hands: There has been much controversy as to where the nails pierced the hands. When Barbet 2, 3 passed nails through the middle of the palms of a freshly amputated arm and found that they tore through the skin between the fingers at a pull of about 88 pounds, he collated this with mathematical calculations which revealed that if the body is suspended with the arms at an angle of about 65 degrees with the upright there is a pull on each hand greater than the entire weight of the body. He then noted that the image of the hand wound on the Shroud was located at the back of the hand where the wrist joins the hand. Following some experimentation, he reported that “...... one finds that in the middle of the bones of the wrists there is a free space bounded by the CAPITATE, the SEMILUNAR, the TRIQUETRAL and the HAMATE bones. We know this space so well that we know in accordance with DESTOT'S work.." 2, 3.

Having M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in human anatomy, I immediately, realized  that  Barbet  made a very serious error because the space bounded by these four bones are located on the little finger (ulnar) side of the wrist not on the thumb (radial) side as is depicted on the Shroud!   This is confirmed in Barbet's 1937 book, Les Cinq Plaies du Christ2 where he  includes a diagram of Destot's space which shows that this space is in fact on the u1nar (little finger) side of the wrist and not on the radial (thumb) side of the wrist where the wound image is depicted on the Shroud.  This is also confirmed by any text on human anatomy.  In the same book there is a photograph of a cadaver that Barbet nailed to a cross which also shows that the nails are indeed nailed through the small finger (ulnar) side of the wrist and not on the thumb (radial) side and in addition, shows a crucifix with the nails placed on the ulnar side of the wrist made by Villandre, the master sculptor, and acknowledged by Barbet that it was made according to the "precise information I had given him."  It is interesting that neither the diagram nor the suspended cadaver are included in his later book, A Doctor at Calvary.3  Barbet made another serious anatomical error when he said that anywhere from 1/2 to 2/3 of the trunk of the median nerve was severed  when he drove the nail through Destot's Space. This is not anatomically possible because the median nerve is not present in the area of Destot's Space but instead runs along the wrist on the thumb (radial) side of the wrist and along the thenar furrow into the palm of the hand.  An easy way to locate the median nerve on your own wrist is to bend your wrist forward.  You will see a firm, rope-like structure jutting outward.  This is the palmaris longus tendon. The median nerve always runs along the thumb side of this tendon.  Barbet was obviously damaging the u1nar nerve which runs in the area of Destot's space.

It is important to remember that the hand wound image is located on the back of the left hand, and only depicts the exit of the nail not its entrance. Moreover, The right hand wound image cannot be seen. We don't specifically know where the nail entered the left hand and we don't know if the nail entered or exited at a different place on the right hand.

The question that we are then confronted with is where would the wound have to be made to be consistent with the Shroud? We do know that the nail did not pierce the middle of the palm of the left hand because it would not exit at the site of the wound image where the Shroud shows it but we don't know if it pierced the middle of the palm of the right hand.  It is also very important to note that Barbet's experiment with the amputated arms along with the mathematical calculations that Barbet  based it on, namely the weight of the body divided by twice the cosine of the angle is, however, not applicable here because both are based on free hanging of the body without foot support.  In this regard, during our suspension experiments discussed later, the pain in the arms and shoulders were severe when the feet were not secured with the seat belt but completely bearable when the feet were secured. .  During suspension a large percentage of the weight is borne by the feet and legs, however when they were allowed to slump, they did not note much of an increased pull on arms and shoulders.   This seems to indicate that when the crucarius dies, only a small amount of additional weight is exerted on the hands.    During suspension a significant  percentage of the weight is exerted in the area of the knee.   When the crucarius dies, some additional weight is exerted on the hands due to slumping down.  In this regard, two certified mechanical engineers and I are currently in the process of setting up the cross to measure the various forces exerted on the hands and other parts of the body in various positions using strain gauges and other equipment.

The nailing was also, not between the distal radial and ulnar bones because it wouldn't exit where the Shroud depicts it. There are only two other possibilities that would satisfy the criteria of emerging where the Shroud depicts it and at the same time passing through a sturdy area.  The nail could pass through the radial (thumb) side of the wrist through a space created by four other carpal bones; the navicular, lunate, greater multangular and capitate bones, emerging in the area where the Shroud depicts it. This area is equally as sturdy as the path through Destot's Space but would in fact injure the median nerve.  The other possibility which is more in accord with the perception of the location that most Christians across the centuries perceived the wound to be. This  is in an area in the palm that we coined the Z area.  The nail would enter through a deep furrow called the thenar furrow, seen at the base of the bulky prominence extending from the base of the thumb.  This area is located as follows; touch your thumb to the tip of your little fingerIf a nail is driven into this furrow in the upper part of the palm, a few centimeters from where the furrow begins at the wrist, with the point of the nail angled at ten to fifteen degrees toward the wrist and slightly toward the thumb, there is a natural inclination of the nail to an area created by the metacarpal bone of the index finger and the capitate and lesser multangular bones of the wrist ( the "Z" area ).  The trunk of the median nerve would  be injured by this path. Although, I demonstrated this path in the anatomy dissection lab in the early fifties, it wasn't until several years ago that this path was confirmed to me in a very dramatic way at the Rockland County Medical Examiner's Office.  A young lady had been brutally stabbed over her whole body.  I found a defense wound on her hand where she had raised her hand in an attempt to protect her face from the vicious onslaught. Examination of this wound revealed that she was stabbed in the thenar furrow in the palm of the hand, and the knife had passed through the "Z" area exiting at the back of the wrist exactly where it is displayed on the Shroud.  X-rays of the area revealed no evidence of broken bones.

Another feature of major importance in this case was that the body was in rigor mortis when she was found with the thumb fixed in rigor, in its normal location behind and to the left of the index finger.  It was not drawn into the palm. A dissection of this area at autopsy revealed that although the median nerve had been injured, the thumb had not been drawn into the palm as was postulated by Barbet 3 .

Although driving the nail through the side of the wrist  opposite to where Barbet shows it( radial side), cannot be excluded as a possible pathway, the upper part of the palm is the most plausible location for the following reasons; 1. The palm region is the location where most Christians across the centuries perceived the wound to be.  2. The path through the upper palm (Z-area) is very strong and anatomically sound. 3.  The path ends exactly where the Shroud shows the wound image. 4. In the ancient literature, Lipsius and other authors and painters and sculptors related and depicted the hands that were transfixed in crucifixion. 5.  It assures that no bones are broken in accord with Exodus 12:46 and Numbers 9:12.  6. It could explain the apparent lengthening of the fingers of the Turin Shroud because of nail compression at this area. 7.  Lastly, it is where most of the stigmatists prior to Father Gino Burressi like St. Francis of Assisi,  Padre Pio, Theresa of Konnersruth, St. Catherine  of Sienna, Catherine of Ricci, Louise Lateau, Marie Esperanza, etc. throughout the centuries have displayed their wounds.

It may be of interest to note that Monsignor Alfonso Paleotto Archbishop of Bologna, who accompanied St. Charles Borromeo to Turin in 1598, and who wrote the first description of the Shroud, reasoned that the  Romans did not drive the nail straight through the palm, piercing the hand from one side to the other but was driven through, obliquely  toward the arm and emerged in the carpal area where the Shroud depicts it. He derived this conclusion as follows; First, he quoted  Zechariah's prophecy "What are these wounds in the middle of your hands? (Zach.13:6). And David's prediction, "They have pierced my hands."  And indicated that  St. Thomas believed the wounds to be in the middle of the hands. He then reasoned that the weight of the body "would have torn the hand according to the experiments made by master painters and sculptors  with dead bodies intended as models to copy for their representations"  and he quoted one of the revelations of St. Bridget where the Holy Virgin told her that "The hands of my Son were pierced in that part where the bone was more solid."  It is of interest that Barbet severely criticized Paleotto's hypothesis as "anatomically impossible.

The medical effects of the nailing of the hands whether it be through the Z-area or through the radial side of the wrist, would be essentially the same. The median nerve would be injured in either instance causing a painfully disabling affliction of the median nerve called causalgia. Causalgia can also occur in other peripheral nerves.  The first full description of causalgia was described in 1864 by  Mitchell, Morehouse and Keene[14]  in reference to Civil War injuries. The pain in median nerve causalgia is an unbearable, exquisite pain described as a searing, burning unrelenting pain traversing the arms like lightning bolts.  The person is unable to bear even the gentlest local contacts. It may be aggravated by movement, jarring, noise, a breeze or emotion. Increases in the ambient temperature or  exposure to the sun would bring on more pain. Periodic episodes of marked sweating would also be manifested. The concomitant presence of fatigue greatly aggravates the degree of pain.  Strong narcotic pain killers proved to be ineffective in many cases thereby requiring surgery to section the sympathetic nerves.  Victims of causalgia frequently went into shock if the pain could not be controlled. This pain would have added significantly to the traumatic shock that was already in process. 

The act of lifting  the patibulum with Jesus' hands nailed to it in order to place it  in a mortise at the top of the stipes that was anchored in the ground, would bring on renewed burning, and  lancinating pains traversing the arms due to the pull of the hands against the nails. The hot temperature and exposure to the sun would increase the pain further The pain was brutal,  markedly increasing the degree of traumatic shock.

Next, the feet were nailed to the stipes by bending the knees in order to lay the soles flat to the stipes or one foot on top of the other and driving the spike through the feet.  Branches of the medial plantar nerves would be injured affording pains of causalgia, similar to those of the hand described above.

THE MISSING THUMBS:  For decades, one of the major points used by the defenders of the Shroud to support authenticity was the absence of the thumbs. The expression,, "Could a forger have imagined this" was coined by Barbet when he postulated that the missing thumb on the Shroud was due to injury to the median nerve by the passage of the nail which stimulated the nerve causing the thumb to be drawn into the palm of the hand.  This phrase has been quoted numerous times in books, magazine articles, lectures etc. It has become a  "Shroud spin".  Unfortunately,  this is incorrect and invoking "Occams razor",  we find a simple explanation  that separates fact from fiction. The reason  as to why the thumbs are not visible on the Shroud image is simply because their natural position both in death and in the living person is in the front of and slightly to the side of the index finger.  This is readily demonstrated by extending your arms in front of you with your hands in a relaxed position and note that the thumbs are below the index finger. Cross your wrists and note  that your thumbs are hidden behind the index fingers. I have observed this on a daily basis in the medical examiner's office over the past thirty years on deceased individuals who are regularly brought into our morgue wrapped in shrouds or sheets with their wrists crossed and frequently tied together.  The shrouds or sheets  never contact the thumbs. In every case, the thumbs are in a position in front of and slightly to the side of the index fingers.  The shrouds or sheets  never contact the thumbs. Barbet's explanation has to be incorrect for two reasons;  the median nerve does not pass through Destot's space and even if it did and was injured,  there would be no flexion of the thumb. Dr. Ernest Lampe, one of world's leading hand surgeons relates that in severance of the median nerve...... "there is inability to flex the thumb, index and middle fingers".  This was confirmed in the case of lady described above who was stabbed in the Z-area of the hand while defending herself.  Although the median nerve was injured  and the knife exited in the exact place where the Shroud shows the hand wound image,   the thumb was not drawn into the palm.

CAUSE OF DEATH: Barbet postulated that the cause of death was due to asphyxiation during suspension on the cross and what appeared to be a cogent analysis was in fact based only on a priori speculations. He proffered three points that he thought evinced proof of  his hypothesis; first, the reports of soldiers in the Austro-German army by LeBec[15][16] in 1925 and Hynek[17] in 1936 who indicated that  they  were punished by hanging them  above their heads by their arms with their feet just off the ground. They had extreme difficulty breathing out and would raise themselves to breathe repeatedly until exhaustion  set in. They developed severe muscle contractions and spasm and died violently of asphyxiation. Barbet, also added another case from a Dachau victim who was punished in a similar way.  Dr. Moedder[18], the Austrian radiologist, also attempted to confirm the asphyxiation theory by suspending medical students by the wrists with their hands above their head less than 40 inches apart on a horizontal bar. He reported that orthostatic collapse occurred in the students within six minutes.  His experiments merely confirmed that asphyxiation could occurs if a person is suspended by the hands directly above their head within 40 inches from each other. Moreover, Jesus was suspended on the cross for several hours not 10 minutes. There is no doubt that if Jesus was suspended with his hands in the same manner, there would be difficulty breathing but not if the victim is suspended with his arms at an angle of between 65 to 70 degrees.

The second point that Barbet's used in an attempt to prove his hypothesis was that the hand wound image revealed an apparent double flow of blood with an angle of 5 degrees. He alleged that this demonstrated that the air is locked in inspiration requiring the man on the Shroud to raise himself in order to breathe therefore, causing a change in the angle of blood flow emanating from the wound on the wrist. When we tested for this change in angle during our suspension experiments noted below, we found that there was absolutely,  no change in the angle of the wrists when our volunteers raised themselves up in the manner described by Barbet. The arms always bent at the elbows The problem with Barbet's assumption is that the so called bifurcated pattern is located on the back of the hand and not on the front.  The back of the hand is nailed firmly against the patibulum of the cross and the hand and wrist are heavily endowed with vast networks of blood vessels being constantly fed by major blood vessels (the radial artery and vein and the ulnar artery and vein) anastomosing with each other from both sides of the hand. The beating heart would be constantly extruding blood through the wound.  This would create a large blood smudge all over the hand, wrist and down the arm. Every movement on the cross would result in episodes of oozing and over several hours there would be a substantial blood collection and not a perfect bifurcation pattern with two individual flows.  The third and last point to support his hypothesis was the evidence of skelekopia or crufragium inflicted on the two thieves that Barbet claimed  was performed to prevent the victims from raising themselves in order to breathe. This speculation by Barbet was incorrect. First of all, there is evidence  by Haas[19], from the Giv’at ha Mivtar Excavation that the tibia and fibula bones of the crucified 7 A.D. Jew, had been broken yet their reconstruction of the position on the cross placed the body in a maximal, lifted position where the arms are parallel to the patibulum.  Zias and Sekeles[20] disagree with Haas' interpretation because they say the breaks are at different angles and believe they must have occurred after death. This, however, is incorrect from a forensic point of view, because there may have been more than one blow struck at different angles.  The ritual of crurifragium was to render the coup de grace blow performed at a time when the victim was near death to hasten death by causing severe traumatic shock.  Moreover, fractures of the bones of the lower extremities may also cause death by fat embolism.  According to some authors, the crurifragium was also performed to prevent the victim from crawling away following removal from the cross so that wild animals could devour them.

I present the following sobering query in a nut shell for anyone to contemplate whether the crucarius, Jesus would be physically able to raise himself to breathe for a period of several hours while suspended on the cross as proposed by Barbet. Could a person in a state of traumatic and hypovolemic shock who had undergone severe anxiety to a point of hematidrosis, had been brutally scourged with a flagrum, suffered trigeminal neuralgia from the crowning with thorns, stumbled and fell for a half mile carrying a 50 pound cross part of the way, then nailed through the hands and feet with large spike-like nails and suspended on a cross be able to repeatedly push and pull themselves up against the spike-like nails in their swollen, exquisitely tender hands and feet in order to breathe over a period of several hours?  I  don't  think  so!


Although the refutations of each of Barbet's hypotheses proffered above should impugn Barbet's asphyxiation hypothesis, some may view them as another a priori argument. Therefore, an a posteriori approach was designed to clear this controversy up once and for all since there had been no attempt, past or present  to  confirm or disprove Barbet's work, experimentally.  In this regard, a very sturdy cross was constructed with the stipes measuring 92" high, the patibulum measuring 78" long and the base secured with reinforced angle iron. A series of numbered holes were drilled through each arm of the patibulum at close intervals to allow for different arm lengths.  This was necessary because the longer the arm length the closer to vertical the individual would hang if a single hole was provided for all arm lengths.  Each hole was drilled in a slightly downward direction from front to back so that bolts could be inserted from back to front in an upward direction to avoid slippage by special leather gauntlets used to secure the hands to the patibulum without constricting the wrists and compromising the blood supply. An opening was provided at the level of the base of the middle fingers so they could be placed over the bolt that corresponded to the arm length of the volunteer.  Human volunteers between the ages of 20 and 35 were given a physical examination and resting values were obtained which included, a 12 lead electrocardiogram, pulse rates, blood pressure, auscultatory examination, vital capacity, ear oximetry values, arterial blood gases, and venous blood chemistries. A gauntlet was firmly tied on each hand and heart monitoring electrodes were placed on their chests and attached to a stress testing apparatus 'which monitored the electrical patterns of the heart, monitored the heart rate with digital readouts, and provided electrocardiogram strips automatically, each minute.  A blood pressure cuff with double transducers was placed on the arm and attached to an Infrasonde electronic blood pressure unit and a Waters ear oximeter probe was attached to an ear and connected to an instrument that records the oxygen concentration of the blood at all times.  Each volunteer was instructed to inform us of any breathing difficulties, pains of any kinds, muscle cramps, or any other problems.  They were also requested not to attempt to lift their body up at any time by straightening their legs.  Each volunteer climbed up on a stool, placed their outstretched arms along the patibulum to line up the holes in the gauntlets with the respective holes on the patibulum corresponding to their arm length and bolts were inserted into the appropriate holes through the back of the patibulum then through the holes in the gauntlets.  The table was carefully removed allowing the volunteer to be fully suspended.  A modified seat belt was then utilized to secure the feet flush to the upright of the cross.  An emergency crash cart complete with a defibrillator, cardiac medications and intubation equipment was on hand to provide for the patients safety.  Individuals were stationed to the right and left of the volunteers in case of an emergency.  During the period of suspension, the following information was tabulated: visual inspection was made for muscle twitching, chest excursions, color, sweating, etc., and subjective information including pain, breathing problems psychological feelings, etc. were also recorded.  A heart-lung evaluation was performed that included an auscultatory examination of the heart and lungs, periodic drawing of arterial blood  for gas analyses, ear oximeter readings, vital capacity, 12 lead electrocardiograms and specific leads, blood pressures, periodic blood chemistry screening including a  routine chemistry screen, CPK with isoenzymes, lactic acid, etc.  Douglas bag collections of the inspired and expired air were taken at various intervals.

An experiment was performed on several of the volunteers who were requested to push themselves up with their feet as was indicated in Barbet's Asphyxiation Theory, in order to observe the angle of the wrist in both positions.Ten volunteers were studied by the above procedures but without strapping their feet to the cross with the seat belt device and compared to those whose feet were supported by the seat belt in order to determine if the feet support had any effect on breathing and whether the pains in the arms and shoulders were increased.

The results of these studies are as follows;  The volunteers were suspended for periods ranging from 5 minutes  to 45 minutes determined by when they wished to come down.  The major reasons for this decision was almost always due to the pain or cramping in the shoulders, hands and legs. The angle of the arms with the upright varied between individuals with a wide range from 60 to 70 degrees. There was no visual evidence of breathing difficulties throughout the suspension on any of the volunteers.  Subjectively, every volunteer affirmed that they had absolutely no trouble breathing either during inspiration or expiration.  A common complaint was a feeling of chest rigidity and leg cramps between 10 and 20 minutes into suspension. When this occurred, they were allowed to straighten their legs or come down. The oxygen content of the blood either increased or remained constant. Both visual observations and Douglas bag studies determined this to be the result of hyperventilation with abdominal breathing beginning after 4 minutes at a rate about 3-5 times normal. Sweating that varied in amount from mild to marked occurred at about 6 minutes in most volunteers. The heart rate increased up to 120-126 beats per minute but there were no arrhythmias.  There were occasional rapid rates as high as 175 but this went back down after the volunteer got over their initial anxiety.  The blood pressure increased to varying degrees but never above 160 mm, systolic in everyone depending on their state of conditioning.  The electrocardiogram only showed muscle tremors but no cardiac abnormalities. The backs of the volunteers never touched the cross except in the shoulder region where it was slight.  Pain in the shoulders caused many of them to arch their bodies back so that the top of the head touched the stipes thereby relieving some of the pain. None of the volunteers made any attempt  to push themselves up to facilitate breathing as was alleged by Tribbe[21] except in the experiment when they were requested to do so.

In the experiment where the volunteers were requested to raise themselves up to breathe, at no time did the wrists change their angle. Instead, the arms naturally flexed at the elbows. The volunteers that were suspended without securing their feet had no difficulty breathing and afforded identical clinical values as those who had their feet secured.  The only difference was that the pain was severe in the shoulders and arms and some had difficulty getting relief of their shoulder pains because of the difficulty in arching their backs as was done by those who had their feet secured.  As a result their times of suspension varied from 8 to 18 minutes.

DISCUSSION In order to arrive at the most probable cause of death, it is essential to examine the sequence of all the events from Gethsemane through Calvary; the severe mental anguish exhibited in the Garden of Gethsemane would cause some loss in blood volume both from sweating and hematidrosis and provoke marked weakness.  The barbaric scourging that utilized a flagrum composed of leather tails containing metal weights or bone at the tip would cause penetration of the skin with trauma to the nerves, muscles and skin reducing the victim to an exhausted, wretched condition with shivering, severe sweating, frequent displays of seizures, and a craving for water.  The results would cause a significant degree of trauma with impending shock (traumatic shock)  and fluid loss and impending hypovolemic shock (fluid loss shock), the latter resulting from the various sweating episodes, and from the fluid accumulation around the lungs (pleural effusion) from the scourging.  Animal experimentation by Daniels and Cate[22] showed that blows to the chest in animals resulted in rupture of the air spaces in the lung (alveoli) and spasms of the air tubes (bronchi).  Moreover the term "traumatic wet lung" refers to the accumulation of blood, fluid and mucus from severe trauma (injury) to the chest. This would be manifested several hours after the scourging.   It may be of interest that the conclusion of traumatic shock from scourging, was also made by both Tenney[23]  and Primrose[24].  The irritation of the trigeminal and greater occipital nerves of the scalp by the cap of thorns especially after he was struck several times with reeds would also contribute to traumatic shock.  The bumpy, uphill road to Golgotha in the hot sun, would incite trigger zones to initiate episodes of severe lancinating pain across the face due to  trigeminal neuralgia  and the carrying of the crosspiece on the shoulder for a time, with episodes of falling, also added to the oncoming traumatic shock and hypovolemia.  The progression of the pleural effusion due to the scourging would lead to increasing hypovolemia.  The large square iron nails driven through both hands into the patibulum would damage the sensory branches of the median nerve resulting in one of the most exquisite pains ever experienced by anyone and known medically as causalgia.  The nails through the feet would also elicit severe pain due to causalgia from the injury to the plantar nerves. The causalgia would be aggravated by the sun, heat and fatigue. all of which would cause additional traumatic shock and hypovolemia.  The hours on the cross, with pressure of the weight of the body on the nails of the feet and the pull on the hands would cause episodes of excruciating agony every time the cruciarius moved.  These episodes of unrelenting pains added to the pains of the chest wall from the scourging would greatly increase the state of traumatic shock and the excessive sweating induced by the ongoing trauma and by the hot sun, would cause a increase in the degree of hypovolemic shock.

The pathophysiological events that occur as a result of these events leading to death are those of traumatic and hypovolemic shock.  Shock, regardless of its cause is defined " ... as a constellation of syndromes all characterized by low perfusion and circulatory insufficiency, leading to an imbalance between the metabolic needs of vital organs and the available blood flow." It is ".. a state of inadequate perfusion of all cells and tissues, which at first leads to reversible hypoxic injury, but if sufficiently protracted or grave, to irreversible cell and organ injury and sometimes to the death of the patient ".[25] This presents a very complex array of initiating factors, compensatory reactions and several other interrelationships.[26], [27]

CONCLUSIONS A series of experiments were conducted on volunteers suspended on a very accurate cross utilizing sophisticated techniques to determine whether  asphyxiation was the cause of death during crucifixion as propounded by Barbet3, LeBec14, and  Hynek,15. The results of these studies overwhelmingly disprove the asphyxiation theory.  In order to gain a more precise understanding of crucifixion and its manifestations on the Shroud, and to determine the cause of death by crucifixion, each phase of the journey was meticulously analyzed including the hematidrosis, the scourging, the crowning of thorns, the trip to Calvary, the fixation to the cross, the raising of the cross, and the suspension on the cross.  This included the loss in blood and fluid volume during the severe anxiety and hematidrosis in Gethsemane, the severe trauma, excess sweating and onset of pleural effusion inflicted by the brutal scourging,  the trigeminal neuralgia, and loss of fluid from sweating caused  by the crowning with thorns, the trauma and the loss of fluid as a consequence of  sweating from carrying the cross, falling during the trek to  Calvary,  the severe trauma and the loss in blood and fluid from fixation of the hands and feet and raising the cross, and the severe trauma and fluid loss during the suspension. The reconstruction of all of these factors revealed the cause of death in crucifixion to be  due to traumatic and hypovolemic shock.

Other information determined during these studies include the following;

a.)  Barbet erred in that  Destot's space does not conform to the hand image on the Shroud of Turin because the image is on the radial (thumb) side of the wrist while Destot's space is on the u1nar (little finger) side of the wrist.

b.) The trunk of the median nerve could not be severed if a nail passed through Destot's space because the median nerve is not present in the area of Destot's space. It runs along the opposite side ( radial ) of the wrist. 

c.) Since the Shroud only shows the site of the nail's exit and not where the nail entered., only two possibilities exist  as to where the nail entered: either through the radial side of the wrist or through the upper part of the palm angled toward the wrist (the Z-area).

d.) The most plausible region for the nail entry site in the case of Jesus is the upper part of the palm since this area can easily support the weight of the body, the nail would exit where the Shroud  depicts it, assures that no bones are broken, marks the location where most people believed it to be, accounts for where most of the stigmatists have displayed their wounds, is located where artists through the centuries have designated it and lastly it explains the apparent lengthening of the fingers of the hand because of nail compression. e.) The thumbs are missing from the Shroud image because the natural position both in death and in the living person is in front of and slightly to the side of the index finger and not due to injury to the median nerve by the passage of the nail as indicated by Barbet.  Injury to the median nerve would not cause permanent flexion (bending of thumb into palm) and, Barbet was obviously striking the ulnar nerve and not the median nerve when he drove a nail through Destot's space on the amputated hand.


1.   Zugibe, F.T., The Cross and the Shroud , A Medical Inquiry into the Crucifixion   New York, Paragon Press, 1988 pp 30-33
2.  Barbet, P., Les Cinq Plaies du Christ, 2nd ed.  Paris: Procure du Carmel de l'Action de Graces, 1937.
3.  Barbet, Pierre. Doctor at Calvary. New York: P. J. Kennedy & Sons, 1953; New York: Image Books, 1963.
4    Kraemer, H. C. "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics" in Clinical Research  The Pharos, fall  pgs. 712, 1992.
5.   Pooley, J.H. Bloody Sweat. The Popular Science Monthly. 26: 357-365, 1884-5.
6.   Scott, C. T "A Case of Hematidrosis. " British Medical Journal, May 11, 1918.
7.   Zugibe, F.T., The Man of the Shroud was Washed. Sindon 1:171- 179, 1989 also (
8.   Evanari, M.  Personal Communication, Oct. 10, 1964.
9.   Post, G. E. Flora of Syria, Palestine, and Sinai. Vol. 11, 1933.
10. Hegi, G. Illustrierte Flora von Mittel‑Europa. 5(1925):327‑29.
11. Moldenke, H. N. and A. L. Moldenke. Plants of the Bible. New York: Ronald Press, 1952.
12. Schwerin, F., Grav von. "Kreuzeholz und Domenkrone." in Mitteilungen der Deutsche Dendrologische Gesellschaft  45: 155‑57, 1933.
13. Fries, T M. Bref och skrifvelser af och till Carl von Linne. 1(1907):273‑77.
14. Mitchell, S. W., Morehouse, G. R. and Keene, W. W. Gunshot Wounds and Other Injuries of Nerves. Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott and Co. 1864, 164 pp
15. LeBec, A. A. "Physiological Study of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ." The Catholic Medical Guardian 3:126 1925.
16. Hynek, R. W. Golgotha Wissenschast and Mystik‑eine medizinisch‑‑apologetische. Studie uber das heilige Grablinnen von Turin, Badenia in Karlsruhe U‑G. fur Berlag and Druderei, 1936.
17. Moedder, H. Die Todersursache Bei der Kreuzigung: Stimmer der Zeit. March, 1949.
18. Haas, N. "Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv'at haMivtar. " In Discoveries and Studies in Jerusalem, 1970, Israel Exploration Journal 20(1‑2) (Jerusalem, Israel):38‑59.
19. Zias, J., and E. Sekeles. "The Crucified Man from Giv' at ha‑Mivtar." Israel Exploration journal 35(1985):22‑27.
20. Tribbe, F. Portrait of Jesus. New York: Stein and Day, 1983.
21. Daniels, R. A., Jr., and W. R. Cate., Jr. "Wet Lung‑An Experimental Study."  Annals of  Surgery 172(1948):836.
22. Tenney, S. M. "On Death by Crucifixion." American Heart Journal 68(1964):286287.
23. Primrose, W B. "A Surgeon Looks at the Crucifixion." The Hibbert Journal, 47(1949):382‑88.
24. Robbins, S. L., R. S. Cotran, and V. Kumar. Pathologic Basis of Disease. Third Ed.Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders, 1984.
25. Zugibe, F.T. Death by Crucifixion. Canadian Society Forensic Science Journal 17(1983):1‑13.
26. Zugibe, F.T., Crucifixion of Jesus: Two Questions About Crucifixion: Does the victim die of Asphyxiation? Would Nails in the Hands Hold the weight of the body? Bible Review: 5:34-43, 1989.


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