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,