Researchers and TV producers stage a simulated crucifixion to melted light top top the biomechanics behind the biblical account.

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A volunteer grimaces for the camera during filming for "The pursuit for Truth: The Crucifixion," airing Sunday. The volunteer to be tied come a overcome to study the biomechanics of crucifixion, however no one was in reality hurt. The simulated nailing was just for show.National geographic Channel
Biblical archaeologist Jonathan Reed says he has actually undergone other of a conversion. Maybe that"s what staging a crucifixion does to you.

For "Quest because that Truth: The Crucifixion," a TV documentary premiering ~ above Easter Sunday ~ above the National geographical Channel, Reed carried out an experiment v a volunteer tied to an really cross. Reed also took a rotate on the himself.

No one was actually hurt. The researchers stopped short of pounding nails right into feet, and also monitored their volunteer victims very closely for any type of signs the stress. Yet Reed, a religion professor at the university of La Verne in California, said spending time top top the overcome was nonetheless a "dark" endure that provided him a brand-new appreciation for roman inn cruelty.

It also readjusted his mental on some of the central historical questions surrounding the practice. Going into the experiment, Reed totally believed that crucifixion victim couldn"t have been nailed through the palms of the hands, and also that they had actually to have died of asphyxiation. Yet now he thinks the Romans can well have targeted the palms come maximize their victims" agony, and that fatality was more likely due to heart failure, carried on by shock, pain and exposure.

"I tried to have actually an open mind and let the experiment guide me come a conclusion," he told

In enhancement to tracing Reed"s experiment, national Geographic"s "Quest because that Truth" (9 p.m. ET/PT Sunday) reviews various other archaeological and also forensic researches that have been sparked by the biblical account of Jesus" crucifixion on great Friday.

Archaeological mysteriesFor Christians, the crucifixion to represent the ultimate sacrifice, setting the phase for the secret of Jesus" resurrection and also humanity"s redemption. Because that archaeologists, however, the phenomenon raises mysteries that a different, grislier sort.

How might Roman soldiers conduct numerous crucifixions in the course of a day, as recorded in 1st-century accounts? walk the cross enhance the pictures illustrated in artwork end the centuries? and if crucifixion was such a widely provided instrument the terror in roman inn times, why is there together scant proof left behind?

University of Texas biblical scholar L. Michael White, who likewise participated in "Quest because that Truth," has a cautious answer for that last puzzle: "Most people who would have actually been executed by crucifixion would certainly not have actually had human being who to be concerned about them ~ death," he told Their stays would have been scattered, White said. In fact, that was all component of the terror. Based upon the Gospels, Jesus to be an exception, in the he was closely entombed after gift taken under from the cross.

Another exception was found in 1968, when building workers came across a 1st-century funerary crate inscribed through the name "Jehohanan." Inside, researchers found the man"s bones — including a heel bone that had a curled pond sticking v it.

Apparently, the man had been crucified, with his hoe nailed come the side of the cross. The nail more than likely hit a knot in the wood and couldn"t it is in removed as soon as Jehohanan to be taken down, so it was buried right together with the bone.

The case of Jehohanan told excavators several things: The feet of crucifixion victims really were nailed to crosses, and the truth that the hand bones confirmed no comparable signs of damages indicated the the victims" hand were not necessarily nailed.

Reed"s experiment built on such findings, as well as the assumption that the Romans would have actually gone for maximum efficiency and maximum ache in conducting crucifixions. The re-creation the Jesus" crucifixion led Reed and also his partner to conclude that the fact was almost certainly different from the portrayals in Renaissance masterworks.

The revised standard crucifixionLike many archaeologists, Reed didn"t try to usage his experiment to "prove" the historical reality of the Gospels. Rather, Reed offered the scriptural accounts together yet another source for developing the experiment and also solving the clinical puzzles.

"To try to start to obtain the answers, friend don"t should go to the library," the explained. "You should go outdoors."

Reed and the "Quest for Truth" producer surveyed the southerly California countryside, searching for the trees the were most likely to be provided for crosses. They cleared up upon a Jerusalem pine. Then, utilizing ancient-style tools that a blacksmith produced specially because that the program, employees fashioned the pine into test crosses.

Working through the wood easily confirmed the prevailing historical view that Jesus to be crucified ~ above a T-shaped cross quite than the now-conventional Latin overcome — and also that he carried only the horizontal beam, probably as a yoke through his hands tied to every end.

Why? It turns out the a full Latin overcome would have weighed 380 pounds (173 kilograms), i m sorry the modern-day stand-in because that Jesus uncovered virtually impossible to lift, let alone carry. Also the horizontal beam to be a trial, and also the volunteer had to it is in relieved after walking only around a 3rd of the course to his simulated Golgotha. In the Bible, a bystander called Simon that Cyrene was recruited to carry Jesus" cross.

Also, a Latin cross would have been excessively awkward come erect at the crucifixion site, requiring six strong men and a web of ropes. The Romans would have "come turn off looking less secure and also less in charge," Reed said.

Using a T-cross, with a slot-and-tab setup at the top, would make it possible for just three men to advanced a victim come execution.

"It not just matches the historical evidence, yet it"s simply so easy," Reed said. Additional evidence originates from a 1st-century, anti-Christian graffito in Rome that shows a T-cross, and early Christian commentaries that slam the Greek letter tau "because the reminds lock of the crucifix," the said.

Although the case of Jehohanan verified that victims" feet to be nailed, what around the hands? In the Gospel of John, the apostle Thomas refers to the nail holes in Jesus" hands. In the 1930s, experiments carried out with cadavers led researcher Pierre Barbet come conclude the nails moved through the palms that the hands can not have supported the weight of the arms and also upper human body —and the the nails were much more likely pushed through the wrists, i m sorry would have lent more support.

Crucifixologists also believed the the weight of the victim"s human body pulled down on the diaphragm, making that increasingly difficult for him to breathe and also leading to death by asphyxiation.

A adjust of heartMore recently, however, researchers have actually come roughly to the check out that the nailed feet noted enough support for the body, and also that the hands can have been simply tied. "Quest for Truth" provides the Visible human being Project to present that putting nails v the palms would have actually resulted in preferably nerve damage and also pain.

"The cruelty the the Romans would have actually led castle to discover the palms the the hands as the most painful part," Reed said. He argued that the Romans also used wooden washers come make sure the hands and also the feet couldn"t it is in pulled far from the nails.

All the pain and exposure would have actually led to a condition called hypovolemic shock, based upon tests the pathologist Frederick Zugibe conducted on student volunteers under closely monitored laboratory conditions. Blood press would drop, resulting in irreversible body organ damage, love stoppage and also death. Piercing Jesus" side would release the pooled blood and fluid, simply as defined in the Gospels.

The university of Texas" White said he thought about the nailing that the feet to be the "crucial issue" because that victims that the cross.

"That"s the point of no return," that said. "It"s no what kills him, however that"s the fatality blow. ... Also assuming the person might have lived as soon as you took him under from the cross, he never would have walked again."

Is this latest scenario because that the crucifixion the scientific equivalent of the gospel truth? "At the present, ns think we understand what we deserve to know," White said. But neither he nor Reed were willing to rule out the possibility that future finds might put a brand-new perspective on the old texts.

"It"s never finished," Reed said. "It"s constantly open."

Onward come the GrailFor now, nationwide Geographic"s documentary team is relocating on come other, less gruesome biblical themes — including the mystery at the love of "The Da Vinci Code," the nature the the holy Grail.

Reed to be reluctant to pointer his hand, yet he stated he currently has one idea on exactly how to strategy the subject.

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"Rather than looking to the myths that have actually grown up approximately the divine Grail, I simply look come archaeology, and also what would have actually been the most common cup provided by Jews in the 1st century," that said. "I think I"ll simply leave it at that."

An previously version the this story incorrectly proclaimed that Reed"s experiment was conducted near Jerusalem.