The tragedy of Calvary: or the minute details of Christ's life from Palm Sunday morning till the resurrection and ascension taken prophecy, history, revelations and ancient writings
by Meagher, Jas. L. (James Luke), 1848-1920
The law forbade the bodies of criminals to remain over night, during the Sabbath or great feasts. " His body shall not remain on the tree, but shall be buried the same day, for he is accursed of God that hangeth on a tree, etc," (Chap xxii., Deut.) That was the reason the bodies of Christ and of the thieves were removed before the setting of the sun that Friday afternoon.
The law forbade the burial of the executed in the tomb of his forefathers, and that was the reason that Nicodemus asked Pilate for the body of Christ. But the Sanhedrin had provided two cemeteries for criminals—one for those stoned, the other for those burned to death. But after the flesh was wasted away, friends could gather up the bones and bury them in his parents' tomb. But they could not have a public funeral, nor hire mourners to lament them.
At the time of Christ the Romans put criminals to death by crucifixion. Semiramis, queen of Assyria, famed in fable as living 2,000 years B. C., whom Ctesias, quoted by Diodorus Siculus, says was daughter of Derceto, was wife of Ninus, who died soon after their marriage, and left her sole ruler of the Assyrian empire, with Babylon as capital, which she fortified and decorated with palaces, after which she conquered Persia, Media, Armenia, Egypt, etc.
Crucifixion spread into these countries, into Carthage and Greece, and to Rome in the days of Tarquin the Superb. (Cicero, Pro. Rab. 4.) Aurelius Victor calls it " the oldest and most terrible of all punishments.
"Baronius and other writers say the Jews practised it, (Anal. I., xxxiv.) and the early Hebrew writers call Christians : " the worshipers of the Crucified." But as the Mosaic law laid down only these four ways of executing criminals, by the sword, (Exod xxi.) by strangling, (Levit. xx.) by fire, (Ibidem.) and stoning, (Deut. xxi.) when the Jewish writers speak of crucifixion it means that the criminal was first killed and that after death his body was fixed to a stake. Although Philo states that Moses adopted this mode of executing murderous, still it is not certain. After the Greek and Roman conquest, the Jews adopted this mode of punishment, for we read that they crucified rebels against their commonwealth. The Jews looked on it as the most horrible, painful and disgraceful death which could be inflicted on a human being.
The Romans also considered it as the most terrible punishment, and by the "jus civitatis " (Cic. Verr. II. 1. 8.) every Roman citizen was exempt from it. Because there was no other kind of death so painful, so terrible and so disgraceful, the Jews insisted that our Lord suffer it, for they could not think of any other punishment its equal.
The first cross was only a simple stake, and the monuments of Mesopotamia show us prisoners executed by hanging them on a stake, or by the wood being driven into their chests. Later they were fastened to two stakes like an inverted V, or the two stakes were fixed near together in the ground, or they were crossed like an X and the hands and feet nailed to them.
Every sacrifice in the holy Temple at Jerusalem, and almost every Hebrew religious ceremony was carried out with a cross, for they all pointed to this sacrifice of Christ. We find the cross in nearly all the religious rites of the ancients before Christ. On the sculptures of Khorsabad and Nimroud are found crosses, " with circles on their heads." In Egypt the divinities, called the " key of the Nile " and " the emblem of life " bear crosses. The Christian converts in Theodosius' army in Egypt were startled to find the cross on the temple of Serapis. The remains of the Mexican and Peruvian religions show us the cross. We find it also in nearly all the religions of antiquity, and being so universally spread, it must have come down from the very origin of mankind, as a revelation that the promised Redeemer was to die on it.
The cross Pilate prepared for the Lord was called the crux immissa, known now as the Latin cross, for no other cross had a projection over the head to bear the Title. This is the unanimous tradition of all antiquity, and this cross is found on all Constantine's coins.
Writers tell us that Moses made a cross of his rod, that Jacob crossed his hands when blessing Joseph's two sons, that Moses extended his hands in the form of a cross at the battle of Rephidim, ( Exod. xvii. 13.) that he raised up the brazen serpent on a cross, that "horns are in his hands" (Hab. iii, 4.) of Habacuc signify the nails in Christ's hands, that the words of Isaias, " And the government is on his shoulder," means Christ that day with his cross on his shoulder, and that Jacob's ladder was a cross. Numerous are the revelations of the cross in the Old Testament and ancient religions, but we will not stop to consider them now.
To the body of the cross was often fixed a wooden projection, on which the victim sat so the weight of the body would not tear away the hands. Sometimes another piece of wood was nailed so the feet might rest on it. Whether the first of these was on Christ's cross, or not, we have no means of finding out. But some pictures of the Crucifix ion give the wooden rest under the feet of Christ. When Titus captured the city later, he crucified thousands of the very Jews who cried out, " Crucify him."
The writer carefully examined the relic of Christ's cross in the Church of the Holy Cross, Rome, which it is said St. Helena, Constantine's mother, brought from Jerusalem to Rome in A. D. 310, which she found in the old morass to the east of Calvary. It is discolored from having been under water for a long time and shows great age. The piece is of pine about three feet long and ten inches square.