The Nails in Jesus' Hands

by Duncan 5 Replies latest jw friends

  • Duncan

    Dear everyone,

    I have been watching the new BBC production of the Passion this Easter week. Very good it is too, I think, and it’s interesting that for the biggest, most expensive star they had in the cast, they gave him the role of Pilate, not Jesus.

    In fact, in this production, there is every bit as much attention paid to the viewpoint and back-story of Pilate and High Priest Caiaphas, as there is to the Jesus story. Perhaps this is the reason they used their only ‘A-lister’ for Pilate. Or perhaps they just didn’t want Jesus talking in a broad Belfast accent.

    Anyway, Friday’s episode took us up to the crucifixion. And it’s this that I what to talk about – or at least one aspect of it:

    The Nails through the Hands.

    The BBC’s depiction of the crucifixion was quite unlike any I’ve seen before. I guess this was by design – usually a production team will want the look of their work to be both novel and memorable and will usually strive to find ways to give a piece of film-making an innovative look.

    The crosses were very much T’s , and the famous victims had their arms placed in a Y shaped position with huge great foot-long spikes nailed in half-way up the forearm, so that the hands were up in the air, much higher than the cross. The legs were almost bent double, pushed together over to one side.

    If you haven’t seen it , the position Jesus ends up in is best described by imagining Pete Townsend of the Who making one of his trademark leaps while playing guitar using his famous windmill technique – freeze the body in that shape and take away the guitar and you’ve got it.

    Anyway, the nails.

    His has bothered me for a while, and watching this show on Friday made me think about it all over again.

    Here’s the problem – nails can’t hold a living persons hand/arm attached to a piece of wood IF HE DOESN’T WANT IT TO REMAIN THERE. Think about this a minute. If someone, some robber or something, broke into your house and nailed your hand to a door frame then left you, wouldn’t you - er - just lift your hand off the nail?

    The robber would be completely stupid to assume that you were all taken care of while he set off to do what he came to do - murder people, steal things etc. You would, maybe slowly and carefully, but without a doubt certainly you would free your hand and then make your next move - run away, call the cops, get your gun etc. etc.

    It doesn’t matter here whether we’re talking about the rather weedy four inch nails usually depicted in a crucifixion scene or the BBC’s fearsome and manly foot-long spikes. The further damage and pain involved in simply lifting a hand off a nail is nothing compared to the damage and pain already inflicted. There’s blood everywhere anyway – which can only help with lubrication if it were needed, which I doubt.

    In a crucifixion my guess would be that there would be at least some of the victims who didn’t really want to participate. Simply nailing their hands or arms to the cross-piece would never stop them struggling to remove themselves from the cross. The Roman guards would get pretty cheesed-off after a while just nailing people back into position.

    Surely you would have to tie them as well? I know the Bible doesn’t say anything about tying Jesus to the cross, but I can’t help thinking that it must have been standard practice. Nails alone just don’t make sense.

    This idea, of course, renders redundant all those learned, tedious discussions you sometimes see in Christian literature over whether the word “hand” in Greek really meant “wrist-and-forearm” , thus allowing a loophole to get them out of the difficulty that a human hand couldn’t bear the body weight and would simply tear open. He was tied-up as well, you dopes!

    Curiously enough, Monty Python’s Life of Brian gets this one completely right. It shows the crucifixion victims both nailed and tied. No surprise really, that film is intelligent and perceptive on so many levels.

    But I guess they weren’t really singing.

    Happy Easter to all,


  • knock knock
    knock knock

    Some show or other I saw had the nails/spikes through a piece of wood so that the effect was like a washer that would keep the hands from dislodging. Lots of variations on a theme have been depicted.

    BTW, nice use of the Townsend illustration.

  • Leolaia

    I think you are quite possibly right, at least in the case of some instances of crucifixion. Earlier in the week I had a series of posts on crucifixion where I discussed how the arms were already tied with rope to the patibulum when the prisoner was compelled to carry it on the way to the execution site:

    In such a case, the ropes could theoretically still left tied on the patibulum when the nails are driven in. In fact, it would better faciliate the nailing by keeping the arms in place.

    OTOH I do not think it would necessarily have been required. How much strength is left in the arms after the arduous task of carrying the patibilum and if the nails are driven into the interosseous membrane between the ulna and the radius, it would be wedged between two bones of the forearm. Otherwise the nail would have been wedged between the carpals, severing the sensorimotor median nerve -- causing paralysis to that portion of the arms.

    Here is a depiction in the 1986 JAMA article devoted to the subject:

  • compound complex
    compound complex


    I was researching stigmata before seeing your thread. Below, from Wikipedia, is material related to your question:

    Skeptics also point out that stigmata have appeared on hands in some cases, wrists in others, and the lance wound has appeared on different sides of the body. This suggests some form of internally generated phenomena, based on the victim's own imagination and subjective in character, rather than something of external divine origin. It is unknown, either through the gospels or other historical accounts, whether crucifixion involved nails being driven through the hands, or wrists, or what side the lance pierced Christ's body, and this would appear to be reflected in the inconsistent placement of stigmatists' wounds. However, Roman Crucifixions involved the nails driven through the ulna and radias gap, being just medial to the wrist.

    No instances of stigmata showing wounds through the wrists were noted before the publication of the photographs of the Turin Shroud showing wounds of this kind. The physical appearance of wounds is often linked to the iconography of crucifixion with which the stigmatic is most familiar.

    The ratio of left side wounds to right side wounds in stigmatics approximates to the ratio of right handed to left handed people in the general population. This suggests wounding by the stigmatic him or herself.

    Similarly, no case of stigmata is known to have occurred before the thirteenth century, when the crucified Jesus became a standard icon of Christianity in the west.[5]. Since crucifixes typically show Jesus having been nailed by the hands, people popularly believed this depiction to be true. As such, if one were to receive stigmata through the wrists, people would not consider it as Jesus' wounds.

    In his paper Hospitality and Pain, iconoclastic Christian theologian Ivan Illich touches on the phenomenon of stigmata with characteristic terseness: "Compassion with Christ... is faith so strong and so deeply incarnate that it leads to the individual embodiment of the contemplated pain." His thesis is that stigmata result from exceptional poignancy of religious faith and desire to associate oneself with the suffering Messiah.

    In 1998, Edward Harrison suggested that there was no single mechanism whereby the marks of stigmata were produced. He found no evidence from a study of contemporary cases that the marks were supernatural in origin. However marks of natural origin need not be hoaxes, he concluded. Some stigmatics marked themselves in an attempt to suffer with Christ as a form of bizarre piety. Others showed marks as a kind of religious performance art. Others marked themselves accidentally and their marks were noted as stigmata by witnesses. Often marks of human origin produced profound and genuine religious responses. Dr Harrison also noted that the female to male ratio of stigmatics which for many centuries had been of the order of 7 to 1, had changed over the last 100 years to a ratio of 5:4. Appearance of stigmata frequently coincided with times when issue of authority loomed large in the church. What was significant was that early stigmatics were not predominatly women, but that they were non-ordained. Having stigmata gave them direct access to the body of Christ without requiring the permission of the church through the Eucharist. Only in the last century have priests been stigmatised. There is currently a cluster of cases in the United States.

  • Sad emo
    Sad emo

    How about this idea? - those spikes would have been big enough to sever or at least badly damage the major nerves in the arms, hence rendering said arms useless/paralysed so the victim couldn't have extracted themselves from their position. Would it be reasonable to think that the victim would have been more preoccupied with keeping breathing?

    Another thought - I don't know about anyone else, maybe its because I have rotten circulation but if I had my arms raised in the position as shown in the BBC version, the blood quickly leaves them and they become incredibly 'heavy' and I lose any ability to control them, they just drop by themselves - if they were nailed or just tied in that position (so regardless of nerve damage) I would be powerless to make my arms do anything.

    Also because they were crucified in 'squat' position with a 'seat' (can't remember the Latin term, sorry!) to stop them from completely hanging by their arms, the spikes wouldn't have ripped along the arm towards the hands.

    I do think the soldiers would have had to tie their victims down in order to nail them though! And weren't the victims usually left on the cross for a few days too? If so, the soldiers could have removed the spikes (valuable and rare commodity) and left them tied with the ropes. So nailing and tying might be more of the norm.

  • moomanchu

    It must have really been hard for the Roman soldiers to nail Jesus's hands the way the Watchtower depicts it.

    Imagine trying to nail through two wrists laying on top of each other. The watchtower knows everything though, so do not doubt.

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