July 29th 2010

The Most Famous Death In History

“Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.”
John 19:16 (NIV)

What is the most famous death in history?

We could think of Cleopatra and her snake. Or Julius Caesar being stabbed to death by his fellow Romans. Or the assassination of President Kennedy of the United States of America. There are a number of possibilities. Can you think of some more?

Chances are that many would say the most famous death is when Jesus Christ was crucified 2000 years ago. This death has been the subject of countless retellings, paintings, sculptures, movies, and books. Recently, in an attempt to discredit the Christian story, some have speculated that the crucifixion did not happen. After all, how can you prove it? Come to think of it, how can you prove any event in history?

Certainly death by crucifixion is a well-documented historical fact. Archaeologists have unearthed many victims of crucifixion from the decades surrounding the date of Christ’s death (between 30 and 33AD). Crucifixion was regarded as a Roman method of execution, much abhorred by the Jews. Quintilius Varus, a Roman leader, had 2000 people crucified in punishment for the rebellion that followed the death of Herod the Great. The Emperor Titus had thousands crucified, some sources say as many as 500 a day, during the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

What about the crucifixion of Jesus? How do we know it took place? In the Bible we have slightly conflicting reports about the details of the crucifixion. They are called the Gospels. The fact that they differ a little adds to their historical credibility. What if four people had to give an account of something that happened ten years ago: they may not recollect all the details in the same way, but they could confirm the main events. If the Gospel writers had conspired to deceive people about the crucifixion and the resurrection, it is likely that they would have agreed on all the specifics.

One first century writer who refers to the crucifixion of Christ as a fact was Josephus, a Jewish historian. The Roman senator, Tacitus, also wrote about it. Josephus records that “Pilate, upon hearing him (Jesus) accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified” (Antiquities XVIII.64).

Nowadays, although there are some dissenters, most serious historians do not deny the historical accuracy of the crucifixion of Christ.

Almighty Father, thank you for the crucifixion of Jesus. Please help me to contemplate what that means. In Jesus’ name.

Study by SEP Staff

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