For illustration purposes only
You are a medical officer (doctor) working at the Department of Forensic Medicine of the fictional Golgotha Medical Centre, where 21st Century Medicine is imagined to be made available in 33 AD.
The date is Friday, 14th day of the month of Nisan, 3793 anno mundi (corresponding to Friday, 3rd of April, 33 AD). You will be working the day shift today from the 1st till 12th hour (6am-6pm). You can’t wait to get off duty because you have loads to prepare for tomorrow – Tomorrow is the Passover coinciding with the Sabbath.1
A little past the 9th hour (around 3.30pm), the bodies of three newly deceased arrive at the mortuary. Being one of the three junior doctors on shift, you and your colleagues cast lots to see who handles which case. You are assigned to attend to the body of a 33 year old Middle Eastern man2 .You open the relevant files of the deceased for a Case Handover from the medically inclined Police. The medically inclined Police are also known as Roman Soldiers, experts of human anatomy and physiology who torture, crucify and pronounce criminals dead as part of their career.
The Assistant Medical Officer on duty has used Red Ink to record details regarding the deceased in the Death Registration Book, along with a form known as “Form for Management of a Dead Body”.
You review details of the deceased3 :
|Name of |
|“Jesus, born of Mary the wife of Joseph the Son of David the Son of Abraham”|
|Identification No. of Deceased||(confidential)|
|Date and time of death/ found dead||9th hour of the 14th day of the month of Nisan, 3793 anno mundi|
|Date and time of arrival to mortuary||Half pass the 9th hour of the 14th day of the month of Nisan, 3793 anno mundi|
|Address of the deceased||Irrelevant, deceased has been homeless for 3 years due to extensive traveling to|
perform ministry4 after growing up as a carpenter
|Age of the deceased||Approximately 33 years of age2|
|Sex of Deceased||Male|
|Ethnicity of Deceased||Nazarene Jew|
|Religion of Deceased||Currently Undefined. Deceased alleged to be starting his own religion through fulfillment of the Jewish Law and Prophets|
|Police Case/Non Police Case||Police Case. Flogging and Crucifixion on a Crux Composita5 for approximately 4-6 hours (starting at somewhere between 3rd hour or 6th hour, lasting till the 9th hour)6 for charge of rebellion against the Roman Empire in claiming to be King of the Jews|
|Place of Death||The Place of a Skull – Golgotha (or Calvariae or Calvary) 7|
|Belongings of Deceased||1) Garments, divided by four parts, one part for each Roman soldier;|
2) Tunic (worn under cloak next to the skin), stained with streaks of hematidrosis (sweating of blood)5, when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane on Thursday night; new owner of tunic determined by casting of lots among Roman soldiers
|Identification of Deceased||Deceased was identified to be condemned to flogging and crucifixion via betrayal of one of the deceased’s disciples named Judas Iscariot, who pointed deceased out in Garden of Gethsemane with a kiss10 .|
|Request to Claim Body of Deceased||Request to claim body performed by Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin Council; granted with Pilate’s permission11|
The Assistant Medical Officer hands you a filled form requesting a postmortem examination. It is an order from Pilate, who has jurisdiction over what happens to the corpses of the crucified, and who granted the corpse to Joseph of Arimathea. Whilst other victims can take a few days to die unless they undergo crucifracture (breaking of legs below the knees)5, Jesus passed away without such intervention within a mere 4-6 hours. Pilate is surprised that Jesus had died so soon.12 As a doctor, your opinion on Jesus’ suffering and cause of death is kindly requested.
Following commands, you call the diener (pronounced “dē-nər” or “dee-ner”) who is mortuary attendant.13 You both don the personal protection equipment and get to work immediately.
Postmortem Examination of the Deceased3, 13:
You and the diener ensure that all equipment and postmortem table are clean prior to placing Jesus’ body on the table in a linen cloth. You examine the body whilst still inside the wrapping.
You choose to first remove the only clothing present on the deceased – a loin cloth. When you cut the cloth to take it away, bits of serum and clots are removed as well, remnants of Jesus’ flogging. In your mind, you picture the flogging of the deceased:
Before being scourged, Jesus was stripped naked and had his hands tied to a post above his head. A Roman legionnaire brought a heavy flagrum down Jesus’ shoulders, back and legs. The flagrum consisted of several heavy, leather thongs with small bone pieces and two small balls of lead attached near the ends of each.
At this point, hematidrosis the night before had rendered Jesus’ skin fragile. The weighted thongs of the whip produced oozing from capillaries and veins in cutaneous and subcutaneous tissue. Eventually, the full force led to spurts of blood by tearing arteries in underlying muscles.
The balls of lead produced dark cutaneous contusions. Finally, the contusions were torn into long pieces, producing ribbons of skin hanging from Jesus’ back. Only then did the beating end (most probably after at least 39 strokes). 5 ,14, 15,
You pack the loin cloth using clean packaging papers and proceed to remove other foreign bodies present on the deceased.
Who can miss the crown of thorns seated on the deceased’s scalp? You picture the crude “coronation” in your mind as you and the diener use metal tools to dig out the heinous representation of parody homage:
After the flogging, Jesus, nearing syncope (fainting) due to hypovolemic shock, was untied to fall on the pavement. A battalion of Roman soldiers (120-200 strong men)16 approach Jesus wallowing in his own blood. The soldiers mock this provincial Jew who proclaimed to be King using his rural Galilean accent.17
Out of mockery, the soldiers throw a robe over Jesus’ shoulders and placed a stick in his hand for a scepter. To complete their travesty, they fashion a crown from small branches covered with thorns.
They pierce Jesus’ scalp with the crown of thorns. Copious bleeding from Jesus’ vascular scalp causes his low blood pressure to further fall, and his rapid heartbeat to further increase.
After mocking and slapping Jesus, the soldiers used the stick in Jesus’ hand to strike him across the head, driving the thorns deeper into his hemorrhaging scalp. Blood covers Jesus’ face, possibly entering his eyes and mouth.
When stripping Jesus of the robe, the Roman soldiers were a lot less gentle than you (a careful doctor). The soldiers ripped off bits of Jesus’ body together with the fabric, just as in the careless removal of a surgical bandage. The once clotted wounds begin to bleed again.5,15
The nails that once had been in Jesus’ wrists and feet have been removed when taking Jesus down from the cross, but you check to make sure no metal scrapings are left. From your past experience of handling bodies of crucified criminals, you know how the criminal procession and nailing is carried out:
A patibulum, weighing approximately 34 to 57kg, is placed across the nape of Jesus’ neck and balanced along both shoulders. Jesus struggles to walk erect down the Via Dolorosa together with two other condemned victims. Jesus stumbles and he falls, probably due to the weight of the wooden beam and his current state of shock due to blood loss.
The centurion who took charge of the execution selects a North African onlooker, Simon of Cyrene, to help Jesus carry the cross just so they could get on with it. Jesus follows, bleeding and sweating. They walk 650 yards (approximately 0.6km) from Fortress Antonia to Golgotha.
Once Jesus arrives at the crucifixion site (Golgotha), Jesus is stripped of His clothing except for a loin cloth. During removal of the fabric, flesh was torn off his wounds just like before. Then, he was thrown hastily into a supine manner (lying on back) against the patibulum.
The legionnaire, a skilled anatomist, feeels for the space between Jesus’ ulnar and radius. He drives a heavy square wrought-iron nail through the wrist. The nail crushes Jesus’ median nerve before piercing the wood. The legionnaire repeats the same action on Jesus’ other wrist, leaving some space for movement of both arms on purpose.
The patibulum is hoisted to the top of the stipes and a sign telling of the criminal’s treason is nailed in place. In Jesus’ case, the sign reads: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
Jesus’ left foot is pressed backward against the right foot in an uncomfortable plantar flexion (feet being forced downwards). A nail is driven through the nerves in the 2nd intermetatarsal space of his feet, leaving the knees moderately flexed. The agony Jesus felt in his wrists is now also felt in his feet. 5,15
External Examination of the Deceased12:
The diener removes the body from the wrapping. You perform a General Examination of the deceased.
Upon inspection, the deceased is a Middle Eastern male. He has long black hair and dark eyes (now cloudy from death). He appears to be in early to mid-thirties. He is covered in blood from head to toe. Streaks of red run from his scalp and are caught in his beard.
The linen sheets used to wrap him are heavily stained from the ribbons of flesh hanging from his back. His upper limbs are disproportionately long (having an excess of around 6 inches in length) due to dislocation from hanging by the arms on the cross18. The right side of his thorax (chest) had been pierced with a spear11. Nail wounds mark the deceased’s wrists and feet.
The male genitalia showed evidence of circumcision indicating that the deceased was raised from young in a Jewish culture19. His lower limbs appear limp from pushing himself up for each painful exhalation on the cross16. There are currently no signs of insects or animals burrowing or gnawing into the open wounds, eyes, ears or nose of the deceased, as is common in crucifixion.5
After cleaning the body, you record the weight and height of the body. The diener then lays the body on the autopsy table in a supine (lying on back) position. A body block is placed under the deceased’s back to protrude the chest forward, aiding in accessibility during the invasive internal examination.
Blood samples are usually collected for toxicology tests according to normal protocol, but due to a special order by Pilate, you will not be doing such.
Oh, how you yearn to perform a DNA test on Jesus! You have learned of his background of having questionable paternity and even maternity. Some say he was conceived by his mother Mary while she was a virgin, indicating Mary was the surrogate mother of Jesus, and not his biological one.20
Nonetheless, out of code of ethics and loyalty to authority, you dismiss your curiosity in the most professional manner.
Internal Examination of the Deceased21, 22:
You begin your internal examination by making a large, deep, Y-shaped incision from both shoulders meeting at the sternum and continuing down to the pubic bone.
You use a sharp instrument to peel back the skin, muscle and soft tissue. The chest flap is pulled over the deceased’s face, exposing the ribcage and neck muscles. You make two cuts on each side of the ribcage and pull the ribcage from the skeleton after dissecting the tissue behind it.
You observe the ruptured pericardium and pleura. The sac around the heart had once been filled with effusion (liquid substance), evidence of heart failure due to hypovolemic shock. The Roman soldiers had pierced these two layers creating a crude “pleural tap” through which blood and water flowed out – a sign that Jesus had died as his heart and lungs had failed to function11.
As Jesus sagged down the cross, his scourged back scraped against the rough wood of the stipes. Pressure on the nails in his wrists produced a shooting pain. As he pushed himself upwards to avoid this stretching torment, the pressure on the nails in his feet produced the pain instead.
Fatigue is slowly overcoming Jesus. Cramps set into the muscles of Jesus’ arms, which were already elongated due to dislocation.
Only inhalation is possible, but not exhalation, as the small intercostal muscles are fixed in an inhalation state. Large pectoral muscles of the chest are paralysed when Jesus is hanging by the arm.
Jesus fights the throbbing cramp in his arms and the stinging pain in his wrists and feet in order to raise Himself for even one short breath.
Due to hypovolemic shock, Jesus’ pericardium (the sac containing the heart) had filled up with serum and compressed the heart, restricting flow of thick, sluggish blood to the tissue and further impeding respiration.
Due to exhaustion from moving up and down the cross for exhalation, carbon dioxide builds up in Jesus’ lungs and aorta. Carbonic acid decreases the pH of the blood. Jesus feels his heart beating erratically, and knows his moment of death has arrived. He musters up his last strength to hoist himself with pierced feet, straighten his legs, and cries out: “Father, into your Hands I commit My Spirit”. Then he dies of a cardiac arrest, or in medical jargon, “stress-induced cardiomyopathy”23 .
A spear is used to pierce Jesus’ right side. Water and blood flow out confirming Jesus is dead.5,15,18
You could go on to make a series of cuts to detach more organs, arteries and ligaments to dissect for further investigation. You could also move the body block from the back to behind the neck so you can remove the brain easily. However, there would be no need for such. From Jesus’ forensic and social history, you have sufficient information and evidence to explain the cause of Jesus’ death.23
You will explain, “Broken heart syndrome is known in the medical field by another name – stress-induced cardiomyopathy, which comes about when a person has faced immense emotional stress due to severe or continuous rejection, betrayal, emotional abuse, desertion, unreturned love, and/or separation from someone they love very much.23 Jesus was betrayed by one of the 12 people he traveled about with for 3 years. Prior to his trial, he was under so much anguish it caused his capillaries to burst and he sweated blood. He was abandoned by his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was slandered and mocked by guards and soldiers. If rejection by the people he preached to in his ministry could contribute to so much emotional turmoil, does this not mean that he loved those people very much…..?”
You ensure the organs of the deceased are in the correct position in the chest cavity before suturing back the butterflied chest flaps. After you have removed your personal protective equipment, two men turn up at the front counter of the mortuary to collect the body of Jesus. One of them is Joseph, from Arimathea. The other is Nicodemus, who is Joseph’s fellow council member. You are reluctant to lease Jesus’ body to people from the same Sanhedrin council that condemned him24 but since Pilate has given his permission on such, who are you to protest? Joseph takes Jesus’ body and wraps it in a clean linen shroud with myrrh and aloe spices brought by Nicodemus. Jesus’ body is then laid in his (Joseph’s) tomb cut out of rock. Joseph rolls a great stone to the entrance of the tomb to seal it.10
Saturday (15 Nisan, 3793 anno mundi / April 4th, AD 33) comes:
According to Jewish calendar, it is already the beginning of Saturday when you head home after finishing your postmortem report that evening.
You try your best to forget the stress of work while celebrating the Passover and Sabbath. It is a sin to think about your career when God has commanded you to celebrate and rest25. You obey this command faithfully, so do the women followers of Jesus who prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body26. On this same day, the chief priests and the Pharisees gather before Pilate to ask him for guards to be stationed at the tomb less the disciples try to steal Jesus’ body. Pilate grants their request.27
Sunday (16 Nisan, 3793 anno mundi / April 5th, AD 33) morning:
The Sabbath is over. You return to work to find your colleagues in enthusiastic discussion. Turns out they are talking about your deceased. The tomb where Jesus had been laid was found empty at early dawn today. Your eyes widen in disbelief. You ask for the news source. Upon hearing that the tomb had been found empty by a group of women, you dismiss the news as a myth since the testimony and witness of females were considered invalid in ancient Israel.28 However, you change your mind when you hear that Peter and another male disciple of Jesus’ had also seen the empty tomb29.
In the days to come after that Sunday:
In days to come, there would be rumors going around town that the disciples came by night and stole Jesus’ body while the soldiers were asleep30, a dereliction of guard duty heavy enough to warrant a death sentence for the soldiers31.
However, in the next few days after, you hear even crazier stories – that Jesus has been seen alive. By not just one, but many different people, at many different places, on many different occasions. He has even been seen to ascend into Heaven at the Mount of Olives32 .You make a list of people who claimed to see Jesus alive after his crucifixion and burial:33
- Mary Magdalene, outside the tomb (John 20:10-18)
- The other women (Matt 28:8-10)
- Cleopas and another disciple on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-32)
- Eleven disciples and others (Luke 24:33-49)
- Ten apostles and others, with Thomas absent (John 20:19-23)
- To all the Eleven apostles together (including Thomas) (John 20:26-30)
- To seven apostles (John 21:1-14)
- To the other disciples (Matt 28:16-20)
- To five hundred people at one time, and also to the man named Saul who would become Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 15)
- With the Eleven Apostles before Jesus’ ascension at the Mount of Olives30
In years to come:
In the next decades of your life, you will see your fellow medical colleague, a physician named Dr Luke, write two books on all these things you have seen and heard. Dr Luke would write one of the Four Gospels documenting Jesus’ life on Earth. Among the Four accounts of Jesus’ life, Luke’s Gospel would be the only Gospel recording Jesus’ circumcision as a young child19, and Jesus’ sweating of blood in Gethsemane (hematridosis)15.
Dr Luke would also write the Book of Acts where he would discuss a matter of your expertise – forensics. In Acts, Dr Luke describes what happened to the body of young suicide victim Judas Iscariot who hung himself on a tree branch out of remorse from betraying Jesus34. Judas had been left on the tree after his death. Over time, the bacteria in Judas’ gut had produced gas, causing his body to increase in weight and swell. Finally the weight broke the branch or the rope, causing Judas’ body to hit the ground, his intestines spilling out on the field.35
In years to come, you will see the Apostles get martyred for their faith, a sign of conviction of their belief. Only one disciple, John, would die of old age, as seen in this diagram you drew so carefully:
You as a learnt doctor in your twilight years would remember all these things, sharing them with your biological and spiritual children – some of which would be mistreated, tortured and even martyred for what they believe.
Then you too, will go to the grave. After years of minding the lives and deaths of many people, it would now be your turn to be minded by others who will examine your cause of demise, mourn over you, and put your body away to rest.
Do you know where you are going after you are put to rest?
Closing thoughts for “Christ Scene Investigation: A Good Friday Murder”:
Though there may not have been an actual forensic doctor present in 33 AD to certify the death and resurrection of Jesus, we have circumstantial evidence from distinct sources leading to a conclusion that there was indeed a man named Jesus, who was born of a virgin, who lived, performed miracles, died by public crucifixion under Pilate’s tenure, was buried, was raised to life as our Saviour, and who remains alive and with us this very day.
When walking through life with this Saviour, you will surely encounter challenges, but you will never encounter them alone.
If you would like to accept Jesus as your personal LORD and Saviour, here’s a short prayer you could follow: “Lord Jesus, I believe You died for my sins. I repent of my sins and ask for Your forgiveness. I am willing to turn from my way and follow Your way. I receive You now as my personal Saviour and Lord and invite You to manage my life from this day forward. Amen.”
If you have made the decision to accept Jesus as your personal LORD and Saviour, do kindly keep in contact with others who are already in the journey. We would like you to join us in growing together, in encouraging and strengthening and correcting one another out of concern for one another’s welfare. One way to do such is to contact Full Gospel Assembly Kuala Lumpur at 03-7981 4755, visit our website at www.fga.my, or visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/fga.my/
Have a Blessed Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday!
- Penelope Uchicago. The Death of Jesus [Internet]. Unknown: Penelope Uchicago; Unknown. Available from: http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/calendar/jesus.html
- Matt Slick. How Old Was Jesus When He Died on the Cross? [Internet]. Nampa Idaho: Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry; Unknown. Available from: https://carm.org/how-old-when-jesus-died
- Ministry of Health Malaysia. Unknown – Standard Operating Procedures Of Forensic Medicine Services [Internet]. Feb 2012.
- Daily Bible Study Tips. Why do we think Jesus’ ministry lasted 3 years? [Internet]. Albuquerque New Mexico: Regina L. Hunter; 2009 May 23 [updated 2011]. Available from: http://www.daily-bible-study-tips.com/RQ_5_JesusMinistry.htm
- Edwards WD, Gabel WJ, Hosmer FE. On the Physical Death of Jesus Christ. JAMA. 1986 Mac 21;255(11)
- Mark 15:25, John 19:14, Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III. Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit [Internet]. Jackson, Mississippi: First Presbyterian Church; 2011 Nov 20. Available from: https://www.fpcjackson.org/resource-library/sermons/father-into-your-hands-i-commit-my-spirit
- Matt 27:33, Mark 15:22, Luke 23:33, John 19:17
- Matt 27:35, Mark 15:24, Luke 23:34, John 19:23-24, The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). 2nd Edition. United States of America: Crossway Bibles; 2008. 2065 p.
- Luke 22:44
- Matt 26:46-50, Mark 14:42-46, Luke 22:47-48, John 18:5
- Matt 27:57-61, Mark 15:42-47, Luke 23:50-56, John 19:38-42
- Mark 15:44-45, John 19:31-38
- Robert Valdes & Patrick J. Kiger. How Autopsies Work [Internet]. Unknown: How Stuff Works; 2004 Aug 3 [updated 2019 Apr 17; cited 2019 Apr 20]. Available from: https://science.howstuffworks.com/autopsy4.htm
- Strobel L. The Case for Christ. Michigan: Zondervan; 1998. 265-266 p.
- Dr. C. Truman Davis. A Physician Analyzes the Crucifixion [Internet]. Unknown: Unknown; Unknown. Available from: file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/Dr.%20C.%20Truman%20Davis%20Analyzes%20the%20Crucifixion.pdf
- The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). 2nd Edition. United States of America: Crossway Bibles; 2008. 1885 p.
- Yancey P. The Jesus I Never Knew [Internet]. Unknown: AJ Entertainment; Unknown. 31 p. Available from: http://tweakeverything.weebly.com/uploads/2/1/2/6/21267706/the_jesus_i_never_knew.pdf
- Strobel L. The Case for Christ. Michigan: Zondervan; 1998. 265-266 p.
- Luke 2:21
- Matt 1:16, Luke 3:23
- Melissa Conrad Stöppler. Autopsy (Post Mortem Examination, Necropsy) [Internet]. Unknown: MedicineNet; Unknown. Available from: https://www.medicinenet.com/autopsy/article.htm#how_is_an_autopsy_performed
- Robert Valdes & Patrick J. Kiger. How Autopsies Work [Internet]. Unknown: How Stuff Works; 2004 Aug 3 [cited 2019 Apr 20]. Available from: https://science.howstuffworks.com/autopsy5.htm
- Caleb Wilde. Did Jesus Die of a Broken Heart? [Internet]. Unknown: Confessions of a Funeral Director; 2012. Available from: https://www.calebwilde.com/2012/04/did-jesus-die-of-a-broken-heart/
- Mark 14: 53-65
- Exodus 20:8-11
- Luke 23:56
- Matthew 27:62-66
- Strobel L. The Case for Christ. Michigan: Zondervan; 1998. 293 p.
- Luke 24:12, John 20:1-10
- Matt 28:11-15
- The ESV Study Bible, English Standard Version (ESV). 2nd Edition. United States of America: Crossway Bibles; 2008. 1888 p.
- Luke 24:50-52, Acts 1:4-9
- Strobel L. The Case for Christ. Michigan: Zondervan; 1998. 312-318 p.
- Matt 27:3-10
- Acts 1:15-20, https://answersingenesis.org/contradictions-in-the-bible/how-did-judas-die/
- My Papa and Mama, who taught me what life and death means to someone in Christ, for providing ideas on the images used in this article
- Dr Alex Tang Tuck Hon – theologian, Consultant Paediatrician and lecturer in Monash Clinical School Johor Bahru (MD (UKM), PhD (AGSTA), Cert.Sp (USA), DCH (Glasgow), MRCP (UK), FRCP (Lond), FRCP (Edin), M.Min (M’sia), FAACP (USA), AM (M’sia)) ; for providing me thoughtful feedback, resources (especially Edwards….), and medical discourse
- Prof. Khoo Joon Joon – General and Anatomical Pathologist and lecturer in Monash Clinical School Johor Bahru (MBBS (UM), Master of Pathology (Anatomical Pathology)) ; for providing me thoughtful feedback, for leading me to appropriate pathology and forensic resources
Did Jesus die of a ‘broken heart’? Elmir Omerovi https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1093/eurjhf/hfp095