March 21, 1986

On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ

Author Affiliations

From the Departments of Pathology (Dr Edwards) and Medical Graphics (Mr Hosmer), Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn; and the Homestead United Methodist Church, Rochester, Minn, and the West Bethel United Methodist Church, Bethel, Minn (Pastor Gabel).

JAMA. 1986;255(11):1455-1463. doi:10.1001/jama.1986.03370110077025

Jesus of Nazareth underwent Jewish and Roman trials, was flogged, and was sentenced to death by crucifixion. The scourging produced deep stripelike lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably set the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry the crossbar (patibulum) to Golgotha. At the site of crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the patibulum and, after the patibulum was lifted onto the upright post (stipes), his feet were nailed to the stipes. The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion was an interference with normal respirations. Accordingly, death resulted primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia. Jesus' death was ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into his side. Modern medical interpretation of the historical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead when taken down from the cross.

(JAMA 1986;255:1455-1463)