Jesus’ ordeal commenced in the Garden of Gethsemane. The New Testament records that Jesus sweated blood. Dr. Alexander Metherell, an expert on crucifixion, identifies this as hematidrosis, which is caused by extreme psychological distress triggering a discharge of bodily chemicals breaking down sweat gland capillaries, resulting in sweat tinged with blood. Hematidrosis leaves the skin in an extremely fragile and sensitive state for flogging, which was a preliminary to crucifixion. Whips used for flogging were made of braided leather thongs with metal balls and sharp bone pieces woven into them to shred flesh.
As Metherell has written, “…. the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh.” Third-century historian Eusebius’ observed that the “sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels were open to exposure.” Survivors of the scourging would have been left in ‘hypovolemic shock’, suffering extreme loss of blood, skyrocketing pulse, plummeting blood pressure, failed kidneys, plus extreme thirst to replace lost fluids.
At crucifixion, sharp iron spikes were driven through the wrists, not the palms. Spikes driven through the wrists crush the median nerve. Metherell says the pain would have been “absolutely unbearable.” A new word was imperative to express it: excruciating. Literally, meaning ‘out of the cross.’ Nails through the feet yielded similar crushing agony.
In the cross’ vertical position, the stress would have dislocated the shoulders and stretched the arms about 6 inches. Metherell portrays crucifixion as “an agonizingly slow death by asphyxiation.” He adds that “exhaling requires the sufferer to push up on his feet repeatedly, scraping his blooded back against the coarse wood of the cross.”
The unceasing hypovolemic shock would have resulted in an excessive pulse rate contributing to eventual heart failure, leading to a collection of fluid in the membrane around the heart (pericardial effusion) as well as around the lungs (pleural effusion). Afterwards, Roman soldiers would confirm death by thrusting a spear into the right side, going through the right lung and into the heart. If one remained alive, the soldiers would break the legs to hasten death.
Skeptics opine that Jesus survived crucifixion, a conjecture that Metherell and others repudiate vociferously.
In a 1986 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. William Edwards concluded, “Clearly, the weight of the historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted… Accordingly, interpretations based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross appear to be at odds with modern medical knowledge.”