The Crucifixion Of Jesus In Light Of Science

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Kaleef K. Karim

Professor Thomas H.Huxley makes an interesting argument in relation to the New Testament’s portrayal of the crucifixion. He strongly argues that Jesus Christ may very well have survived the crucifixion, for him being removed while still living in the tomb, taken out either on the Friday or Saturday night by Joseph of Arimathea, and later recovered from his injuries and came back to Galilee. He argues further that the crucifixion itself could not have killed Jesus because he was only on the cross less than 7 hours. For a person to be crucified it takes up to two days or even longer for them to finally die. This is impossible in this case. The professor asks towards the end:

“On what grounds can a reasonable man be asked to be believe any more?”

The way Jesus’s Crucifixion is portrayed in the Gospel(s) led him to believe that Jesus did not die on the Cross. Professor Thomas Huxley has a point here: in the Philippines or other Asian countries, for example, devout Christians gather every year and volunteer to crucify themselves. The people try to imitate the suffering of Jesus, have real nails hammered into their palms and feet, as CNN reports. Others devotees also whip their backs bloody. Although the people who volunteer and sustain injuries, but at the end, all go home alive.



Professor Thomas H. Huxley

“What do we find the accounts of the events in question, contained in the three Synoptic gospels, are compared together? In the oldest, there is simple, straightforward statement which, for anything that I have to urge to the contrary, may be exactly true. In the other two, there is, round this possible and probably nucleus, a mass of accretions of the most questionable character.

The cruelty of death by crucifixion depended very much upon its lingering character. If there were a support for the weight of the body, as not unfrequently was the practice, the pain during the first hours of the infliction was not, necessarily, extreme; nor need any serious physical symptoms, at once, arise from the wounds made by the nails in the hands and feet, supposing they were nailed, which was not invariably the case.

When exhaustion set in, and hunger, thirst, and nervous irritation had done their work, the agony of the sufferer must have been terrible; and the more terrible that, in the absence of any effectual disturbance of the machinery of physical life, it might be prolonged for many hours, or even days. Temperate, strong men, such as were the ordinary Galilean peasants, might live for several days on the cross. It is necessary to bear these facts in mind when we read the account contained in the fifteenth chapter of the second gospel.

Jesus was crucified at the third hour (xv. 25), and the narrative seems to imply that he died immediately after the ninth hour (v. 34). In this case, he would have been crucified only six hours; and the time spent on the cross cannot have been much longer, because Joseph of Arimathaea must have gone to Pilate, made his preparations, and deposited the body in the rock-cut tomb before sunset, which, at that time of the year, was about the twelfth hour. That any one should die after only six hours’ crucifixion could not have been at all in accordance with Pilate’s large experience of the effects of that method of punishment.

It, therefore, quite agrees with what might be expected, that Pilate,

“marvelled if he were already dead”

And required to be satisfied on this point by the testimony of the Roman officer who was in command of the execution party. Those who have paid attention to the extraordinarily difficult question, What are the indisputable signs of death? – will be able to estimate the value of the opinion of a rough soldier on such a subject; even if his report to the Procurator were in no wise affected by the fact that the friend of Jesus, who anxiously awaited his answer, was a man of influence and of wealth.

The inanimate body, wrapped in linen, was deposited in a spacious, [1] cool rock chamber, the entrance of which was closed, not by a well-fitting door, but by a stone rolled against the opening, which would of course allow free passage of air.

A little more than thirty-six hours afterwards (Friday 6 P. M., to Sunday 6 A. M., or a little after) three women visit the tomb and find it empty. And they are told by a young man “arrayed in a white robe” that Jesus is gone to his native country of Galilee, and that the disciples and Peter will find him there.

Thus it stands, plainly recorded, in the oldest tradition that, for any evidence to the contrary, the sepulchre may have been emptied at any time during the Friday or Saturday nights. If it is said that no Jew would have violated the Sabbath by taking the former course, it is to be recollected that Joseph of Arimathea might well be familiar with that wise and liberal interpretation of the fourth commandment, which permitted works of mercy to me – nay, even the drawing of an ox or an ass out of a pit – on the Sabbath. At any rate, the Saturday night was free to the most scrupulous of observers of the Law.

These are the facts of the case as stated by the oldest extant narrative of them. I do not see why any one should have a word to say against the inherent probability of that narrative; and, for my part, I am quite ready to accept it as an historical fact, that so much and no more is positively is known of the end of Jesus of Nazareth.

On what grounds can a reasonable man be asked to believe any more? So far as the narrative in the first gospel, on the one hand, and those in the third gospel and the Acts, on the other, go beyond what is stated in the second gospel, they are hopelessly discrepant with one another. And this is the more significant because the pregnant phrase “some doubted,” in the first gospel, is ignored in the third.

But it is said that we have the witness Paul speaking to us directly in the Epistles. There is little doubt that we have, and a very singular witness he is. According to his showing, Paul, in the vigour of his manhood, with every means of becoming acquainted, at first hand, with the evidence of eye-witnesses, not merely refused to credit them, but

“persecuted the church of God and made havoc of it.”

The reasoning of Stephen feel dead upon the acute intellect of this zealot for the traditions of his fathers: his eyes were blind to the ecstatic illumination of the martyr’s countenance “as it had been the face of an angel;” and when, at the words,

“Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God,”

the murderous mob rushed upon and stoned the rapt disciple of Jesus, Paul ostentatiously made himself their official accomplice.

Yet this strange man, because he has a vision one day, at once, and with equally headlong zeal, flies to the opposite pole of opinion. And he is most careful to tell us that he abstained from any re-examination of the facts.

“Immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went I up to Jerusalem to them were Apostles before me; but I went away into Arabia.” (Galatians i. 16, 17.)

I do not presume to quarrel with Paul’s procedure. If it satisfied him, that was his affair; and, if it satisfies anyone else, I am not called upon to dispute the right of that person to be satisfied. But I certainly have the right to say that it would not satisfy me, in like case; that I should be very much ashamed to pretend that it could, or ought to satisfy me; and that I can entertain but a very low estimate of the value of the evidence of people who are to be satisfied in this fashion, when questions of objective fact, in which their faith is interested, are concerned.

So that when I am called upon to believe a great deal more than the oldest gospel tells me about the final events of the history of Jesus on the authority of Paul (1 Corinthians xv. 5-8) I must pause.

Did he think it, at any subsequent time, worth whole “to confer with flesh and blood,” or, in modern phrase, to re-examine the facts for himself? Or was he ready to accept anything that fitted in with his preconceived ideas? Does he mean, when he speaks of all the appearances of Jesus after the crucifixion as if they were of the same kind, that they were all visions, like the manifestation to himself?

And finally, how is this account to be reconciled with those in the first and third gospels – which, as we have seen, disagree with one another?

Until these questions are satisfactorily answered, I am afraid that, so far as I am concerned, Paul’s testimony cannot be seriously regarded, except as it may afford evidence of the state of traditional opinion at the time at which he wrote, say between 55 and 60 A.D.; that is, more than twenty years after the event; a period much more than sufficient for the development of any amount of mythology about matters of which nothing was really known.

A few years later, among the contemporaries and neighbours of the Jews, and, if the most probably interpretation of the Apocalypse can be trusted, among the followers of Jesus also, it was fully believed, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, that the Emperor Nero was not really dead, but that he was hidden away somewhere in the East, and would speedily come again at the head of a great army, to be revenged upon his enemies. [2]”


[1] Spacious because a young man could sit in it “on the right side” (xv. 5), and therefore with plenty of room to spare.
[2] King Herod had not the least difficulty in supposing the resurrection of John the Baptist – “John, Whom I beheaded, he is risen” (Mark vi. 16).

This excerpt on the crucifixion by Professor Thomas H. Huxley was taken from the following Book:

“Science And Christian Tradition – Essays [New York: D. Appleton And Company., 1896] by Thomas H. Huxley, page 279 – 284”

The view held by Professor Thomas H. Huxley has also been proposed by other scholars but slightly different. They believe also that the crucifixion did not kill Jesus, rather it was made to appear to his enemies:

“Death and Resurrection
For those gnostics who did not take the docetic view, the problems connected with the death and resurrection of Jesus were: Did Jesus die on the cross? Or was a drug administered perhaps by the skilled Essenes, that would only give the semblance of death (Schonfield, 1981, p.110). The German scholar Karl Friedrich Bahrdt (d. 1792) suggested that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, who may have been members of the Essene brotherhood, prepared Jesus to face the ordeal of an apparent death. After removing his comatose body from the cross Joseph of ArimatheaG used secret remedies to revive him (Stewart, 1981, p. 155).

Again was his resurrection a normal return to consciousness after a sudden collapse into a coma that was mistaken for death? If so the disciples may have bribed the Roman guards to let him go. It has further been suggested that Jesus went to the Essene community at Qumran, became an Essene monk…” (Gnosticism – Its History and Influence: A Concise Survey Of Gnostic Thought From Its Pre-Christian Origins To Its Modern Manifestations [Printed in Great Britain by Mackays of Chatham, Kent., 1989] by Benjamin Walker (George Benjamin Walker), page 78)


Related articles:

(1) – “Crucifixion or Crucifiction: What Did 1st Century Christians Believe?

(2) – “Examining Pagan Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine or Hearsay?

(3) – “Examining Jewish Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine Or Forgery?

(4) – “Examining the Engineering behind Jesus’ (p) title as ‘Lamb of God

(5) – “Did earliest Christians believe (alleged) crucifixion to be indispensable?

(6) – “Was Jesus Hanged or Crucified?

(7) – “Jesus did not die on cross, says scholar” (

(8) – “Filipinos Nailed to Crosses in Good Friday Re-Enactment That Church Says Corrupts Christian Message” (

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4 Responses »

  1. Quran is talking about Holy Prophet Essa Allay Salaam not Jesus. According to laws of nature and medical science Prophet Essa Mother Bibi Maryyam was married to a guy and after the prescribed period Prophet Essa was born. He was neither killed nor put on cross. He completed his life journey and died a natural death. He will come back on day of judgement only where every one will be there for their accountability.

    • Jesus is Nabi Isa alayhis salam, Who told you he isn’t? He didn’t die and neither was crucified and who told you he died a natural birth cause he didn’t die in the first place so kindly explain!

    • Eesa is just Arabic, and Jesus is latinized form of the Hebrew Yeshua. So, both the Arabic Eesa and the Latin Jesus refer to the same person.


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