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§ 297. Was Christ’s a real Death?

If the inquirer still perseveres in rejecting every thing supernatural, he must have recourse to external grounds for the explanation of Christ’s reappearance, and deem it a revival from apparent death, brought about by the use of natural means.

It may be admitted, inasmuch as crucifixion was not immediately fatal, that one who had endured its torture for several hours might be restored by careful medical aid; although it certainly was not an easy thing to do, as the examples mentioned by Josephus794794   In his autobiography, § 75. He had been sent, with a troop of Roman horse, to the village of Tekoah, four or five hours distant, to reconnoitre. Jerome, living in Bethlehem, writes of this village, “Thecoam viculum esse in monte situm et duodecim millibus ab Jerosolymis separatum, quotidie oculis cernimus” (t. iv., pt. i., p. 882). Returning from the village to Jerusalem, Josephus saw several prisoners hanging on crosses, who must have been crucified in the interim, as he had not seen them in going out. On arriving at camp, he begged of Titus the lives of three, and had them at once taken down (after hanging, therefore, but a few hours), and treated, medically, with the utmost care; yet but one out of the three survived. (Cf. Bretschneider’s remarks on this account, Stud. u.. Krit., 1832, iii.; also, Hug, Freiburg. Zeitschrift, No. vii., 148.) testify. But let us, without inquiring for other signs of death in the case of Jesus, notice the following points. Before his crucifixion, he had endured multiplied sufferings, both of soul and body; he had been scourged; he was so worn out on the way to Golgotha that he could not carry his cross, and even the Roman soldiers had pity on him; he was nailed to the cross by his hands and feet; he had remained from noon till towards evening795795   A close computation of the hours cannot be arrived at from the Evangelical accounts. It is hardly to be supposed that even the disciples who were eye-witnesses were able, under the circumstances, to note the precise time. in this painful position, under the rays of a burning 426sun; he took leave of the world in the struggles of death; his side was pierced796796   I make the following remarks with reference to John, xix., 31, to guard against the interpolations placed in this passage by a profane vulgarity, which reads John’s Gospel as it would a police report. The suffringere crura was indeed an ignominious punishment, particularly used as a capital punishment for slaves; but it certainly was not immediately fatal. (After the hands were cut off, the legs broken, and the body maimed in various ways, the criminals were thrust into a pit, still alive: Κολοβώσαντες δὲ καὶ συντρίψαντες τὰ σκέλη, ἔτι ζῶντας ἔῤῥιψαν εὔς τινα τάφρον. Polyb., i., c. 80, § 13.) The death-blow was afterward given in some other way. Hence (Ammian. Marcellin., Hist., xiv., 9) it is expressly added, “fractis cruribus, occiduntur.” The soldiers, having completed the effractio crurum on the two malefactors that were crucified with Jesus, either gave them the death blow or permitted them, after being taken down, to perish slowly from their broken limbs. But, as no signs of life could be seen in Jesus, they saw no necessity to execute the command, which was given solely under the presupposition that crucifixion could not kill so soon. Nor was this at all strange; all that was demanded was that the crucifixion should have done its work effectually. They deemed it enough, therefore, to thrust the lance into his side, either to assure themselves that he was dead, or to give him the death-blow. It would have been a bad manoeuvre, indeed, to do this as a mere pretence, with the intention to save him. Although the word νύττειν may denote a slight wound, its meaning (as denoting a severe wound) is fixed by the weapon employed; and, moreover, John uses it as synonymous with ἐκκεντεῖν, v. 37. The wound could not have been a small one, as Christ afterward called on the disciples to thrust their hands into it. And there are other instances in which we read of the death-blow being given by piercing the side with a lance; two martyrs, Marcus and Marcellianus, had remained a day and a night tied to a stake, to which their feet were nailed, jussit praefectus ambos, ubi stabant, lanceis per latera perforari (Acta Sanct., Jun., t. iii., f. 571). by the lance of a Roman soldier; and, after all this, he remained two nights and a day in a fresh grave. Yet, without medical aid or attendance, the same man walks about on a sudden among his disciples, apparently in sound health and full of vital power! Had he appeared among them sick and suffering, as he must have done had he been restored by natural means from apparent death, such a sight could not have revived their sunken faith, or become the foundation for all their hopes. A weak man would have reappeared, subject to death like any other. But, on the contrary, he seemed to them so much more like a glorified being that he had to give them sensible proofs of his humanity. He appeared to them thenceforth as one over whom death had no power; and, therefore, became a pledge that the life of man should conquer death and enjoy forever a glorified existence.

Even if all this could be made to agree with a restoration of Christ by natural means from apparent death, we should have further to suppose either that his life was subsequently prolonged for some time, or that he died soon after in consequence of his wounds and sufferings The former supposition is a mere fancy; there is no possible ground for it in history; the latter is contradicted by the facts of his reappearance; there was no cause of death apparent. And the very fact of his dying would have destroyed all the moral effect of his resurrection, which consisted solely in the conviction wrought by it that he, as Messiah, 427had conquered death, and was no more subject to its power. Moreover, if it be true that Christ’s sufferings caused his death, he is chargeable with grossly deceiving the disciples to present his body to them in a higher light, and thereby give an impulse to their faith which it could not otherwise have obtained. And so that great fact which formed the immovable basis of the disciples’ faith in Christ’s person and work, and in his plan of salvation, on which rests the whole fabric of the Christian Church, must have gained its high import from an actual deception on the part of Christ himself, or at least from an intentional concealment of the truth!

Had the Jewish opponents of the Gospel made use of this hypothesis to invalidate the proof of Divinity which the disciples derived from Christ’s reappearance, and circulated it freely, it would neither be matter of surprise nor ground of suspicion. But the fact that they did not make use of any such hypothesis, but employed any and every other means to invalidate the Christian faith, is a powerful proof that there was nothing in the circumstances of Christ’s death to favour such an explanation. Of a totally different character was the report, so easily diffused,797797   Matt., xxviii., 15. We cannot mistake the additions of tradition to the original facts. Dial. c. Tryph. Jud., f. 335, ed. Colon, and the extracts by Eisenmenger, i., 192. that the disciples had found means to remove the body from the grave. The invention and circulation of such a report was most natural; the empty grave was a proof that must be invalidated. But, on the other hand, there is not a vestige of proof that the Jews, presupposing the accounts of Christ’s reappearance to be true, ever reported that he had been revived from a merely apparent death: on the contrary, the truth of those accounts wag the object of attack from the very first. The opponents of Christianity declared that the disciples either intentionally deceived others, or were themselves deceived; e. g., Celsus, who made great use of the attacks of the Jews upon Christianity and the fables they spread abroad concerning it. And in this connexion it was that the accusation of stealing away the body was brought against the disciples; they did it, it was said, to nullify the evidence of the corpse against their pretence798798   L. c., Justin Mart.: “πλανῶσι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους λέγοντες ἐγηγέρθαι.” that Christ had risen and reappeared to them. Paul did not find it necessary to prove that Christ had really died; this was taken for granted; his task was to show that he had risen from the dead (1 Cor., xv.).799799   But I must believe, contrary to some of the latest interpreters, that John (xix., 34), as an eye-witness, meant to prove that Christ was really dead, from the nature of the blood that flowed from the wound. Ver. 35 certainly refers to ver. 34, and not to ver. 36, 37. Although John, in these last verses, referred to the Old Testament prophecy, it does not follow that he made it the seal of faith (v. 34), particularly for his readers, who were not such as to be led to faith from arguments founded in Judaism. These verses are added to show that what had taken place was conformed to a higher necessity. It appears, then, that John thought it necessary to prove that Christ had really died. It does not follow, however, that he had in view any definite opponents who denied that fact. As he intended to testify to the resurrection, it was necessary that he should testify to the death, especially for readers who were not believers; in view of the well-known fact that crucifixion, endured for a few hours, was not in itself always fatal. If he had definite opponents in view, they were probably (corresponding to John’s sphere of labour) heathens, and not Jews.

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