Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol's Crucifixtion
In terms of our study, the most important discovery at this site was the skeleton of a man named Yohanan Ben Ha’galgol, whose name was written in Aramaic on the stone ossuary. Further study by Hebrew University pathologist Dr. N. Haas revealed some preliminary data regarding Yohanan’s skeleton. Yohanan was about five feet seven inches in height, was about twenty-four to twenty-eight years old, had a cleft palate and was a victim of crucifixion. Still piercing his feet was a large nail about seven inches long that had been driven sideways through his heel bones, which indicates the direction in which the feet and legs were twisted in order to be attached to the cross. The nail pierced an acacia beam on the cross, which was anchored in the ground. Small pieces of wood still attached to the spike indicated that the beam itself was olive wood. The end of the nail was bent backwards toward the head due either to a knot in the wood or to purposeful bending.
An examination disclosed the fact that nails had also been driven between the radius and ulna bones in the lower arm. The radius bone was both scratched and actually worn smooth. This latter result was apparently due to repeated friction caused by the crucifixion victim pulling himself upward in order to breathe, followed by sinking back down again. As the weight of the body was repeatedly moved in order to free the pectoral and intercostal muscles, which inhibit breathing in the “down” position, the radius was worn.
Additionally, Haas discovered that Yohanan’s lower leg bones were broken. The left tibia and fibula bones and the right tibia bone were apparently crushed by a common blow, with the legs being sawed off at a later time. This is quite consistent with the dreaded Roman crucifragium spoken of in John 19:31–32 as being normal procedure for crucifixion victims. Death was hastened because the victim was not able to push himself up on the cross in order to breathe, which brought death in a comparatively short period of time.
However, Haas’ study has been seriously criticized by some researchers, who dispute his findings at a number of points. J. Zias and E. Sekeles published their study that argues, among other findings, that there was insufficient evidence to indicate either a cleft palate, that nails pierced the forearms, or that the ankles were broken during the process of crucifixion.
The crucifixion process recorded in the Gospels has been at least partially corroborated by this discovery, with the extent of confirmation depending on the correct view of the data. Archaeology provides us with at least some facts that have a bearing on the death of Jesus. (1) Victims were often nailed to crosses through the feet or heels and through the wrist or lower arm area. Whether or not the latter was the case with Yohanan, it is the normal way of Roman crucifixion. (2) The vast majority of medical researchers agree that the positioning of the body required the victim to move upward and downward in order to alternatively breathe and rest. (3) Smashing the leg bones was used in cases where a hasty death was desired.
Source: Gary R. Habermas and Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ (Joplin, Mo.: College Press Pub. Co., 1996). 174.