Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Depiction of the crucifixion in The Passion of the Christ

On RogueClassicism David Meadows draws attention to this article in Israel Insider by Emanuel A. Winston:

Mel Gibson's fake "Passionate" effects

There is some nonsense, especially towards the end of the article, but the gist of the article points up the problems with the realism of the cross in the film:
. . . . Take a look at the lumber being carried by the Jesus actor. Any carpenter - or even lay handyman - will tell you that the Jesus player is carrying a saw-mill produced 6-inch x 6-inch x 10-foot timber. In the news clips on Fox News you can see that it is neatly trimmed and squared timber which is usually displayed in churches and medallions of the cross.

The problem is that the Romans had been crucifying rebellious Jews for many years and didn't commit the man-hours needed to take a tree trunk and hand craft it to a neatly squared and smooth timber, merely to crucify another Jew. The best they could do would be the familiar technique of building a log cabin where two sides of a tree trunk were laboriously chipped with a mattock on two sides so they could be stacked somewhat flat on top of each other. The Romans would not have bothered to square timber and besides, having already crucified thousands of rebellious Jews over 30 years, they had plenty of posts standing and empty, the bodies having rotted away."
But a couple of questions; first on this:
The Romans used the tree trunks as highly visible torture instruments to remind passers-by that this was the penalty for rebellion against the Roman Empire. Their objective was not to beat their victims to death before hanging them up but, rather to keep them alive for as long as possible. A figure dying slowly over many days, groaning, screaming, pleading for water, was a far better deterrent than whipping a victim so that he would bleed to death in hours - as was displayed in the Gibson film. With the amount of colored ink dribbling down Gibson's Jesus, he would have died in hours from blood loss or infection.
But then John implies that Jesus' death was unusually quick (John 19.33-34) so that is not in itself implausible. One other comment:
I haven't seen a film section where they nail Jesus to the cross but, if the past myths prevail, they will put spikes through his hands. They will have to use special effects because the problem with that depiction is that nails or spikes through the palms cannot hold the weight of a human body before it tears through the flesh of the palms or tears longitudinally through the fingers. Spikes must go through the bones to hold but, the myth of bleeding palms has been firmly established in Christian mythology.
I hope that they "use special effects" whatever method is depicted for nailing Jesus' hands to the cross! It's not always the case that the nails are depicted as nailing through the palms of the hands, either. The Turin shroud famously appears to show pierced wrists; the film The Day that Christ Died has nailing through the wrists and I have a feeling that there are others too though I can't recall them at the moment.

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