Tuesday, February 12, 2008


The History Channel

Throughout history, crucifixion has been one of the cruelest, most demeaning and excruciating ways to die. Since the Romans chose this as their method to execute Jesus Christ, most people wrongly associate crucifixion as a strictly sacred or religious symbol. In fact, crucifixions didn't start with the Romans. About 500 years earlier, the first documented account of crucifixion occurred when the Persian King Darius crucified 3,000 political opponents in Babylon. In 332 B.C. Alexander the Great ordered 2,000 survivors crucified after the siege of Tyre. During the rule of Caligula, Jews were even crucified in the local amphitheater to entertain the citizens of Alexandria. Crucifixion has traveled across history, empires, cultures...and is even still in use today.

But who came up with this severe method of execution? How did various civilizations use it and for what crimes? How exactly is a crucifixion carried out? What do victims really die from: shock, suffocation, asphyxiation, or heart trauma? What effect did it have as a deterrent? In an attempt to solve these mysteries, a crucifixion experiment will be performed by a team of forensic experts. They'll reconstruct a 2000-year-old body using the only physical evidence of a crucifixion ever discovered. During the reconstruction process, experts will explore the history and science of crucifixion: why victims were flogged and then forced to carry the horizontal beam, a.k.a. crossbar, to their execution site where soldiers then proceeded to hammer nails into the wrists (and not the hands as was commonly believed.) Experiments on cadavers have shown that people hanging on a cross with nails through their palms will fall to the ground within a relatively short time, pulled by gravity. And yet, the Bible states that it took about six hours for Jesus to die up on the cross.

Filmed on historic locations in the Middle East including the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden of Gethsemane in the old city of Jerusalem where Jesus was executed, Crucifixion investigates the historical record, with a special emphasis on the death of Jesus Christ. Modern day footage will show real crucifixions that take place in the Philippines. Brief recreations will be used along with extensive CGI animation and CSI forensic-style graphics to illustrate the different types of crucifixion techniques throughout history and how this form of punishment eventually kills its victim.

PREMIERE: Sunday, March 23 at 8pm/12am ET/PT, two hours. The History Channel

Images: These are both images capturing the crucifixion of St. Peter. There is an early church tradition that Peter insisted upon being crucified head downward, because he did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same way as was his Lord. Shown above is a detail from the "Crucifixion of Peter" (1481-82) by Florentine painter Filippino Lippi (1457-1504), fresco, 230 x 598 cm., Cappella Brancacci, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy.

The Crucifixion of St. Peter (Crocefissione di san Pietro) (1600) is a work by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, painted for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. Across the chapel is a second Caravaggio depicting the The Conversion of Saint Paul on the Road to Damascus (1601). On the altar between the two is an Assumption of the Virgin Mary by Annibale Carracci. The painting depicts the martyrdom of St. Peter by crucifixion - Peter asked that his cross be inverted so as not to imitate his mentor, Christ, hence he is depicted upside-down.