The Gospels say little about the business of crucifixion. “And they crucified him” is all St. Mark offers (15:24), with no word of how it was done or how the cross tortured its victim.
The early Christians offered little more when they recited the Creed: “He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died and was buried.”
The Crucifixion comes at the climax of the Christian drama. Yet tradition records the matter as little more than a fact. “They crucified him.” “He was crucified.” History provides no coroner’s report, no painstaking medical reconstruction.
Perhaps our first Christian ancestors could not bear to say any more. They had seen men crucified. They could walk to the outskirts of town if they wanted to count the cost — in blood and pain and humiliation — of their salvation.
Unlike Christians through most of history, we today have not grown up with the experience of public executions and public torture. Still, like the family of any murder victim, we feel the need to know the truth about our Savior and brother — not least because we believe He died for our sake.
Over the past 20 years, a friend of mine, Pittsburgh surgeon Jack McKeating, has applied his professional skills to this problem — reviewing the historical and archaeological evidence in light of recent medical research. Some years back, I interviewed him on the subject for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.
“Any serious Christian has to take an active interest in the passion of Jesus Christ,” McKeating told me. “Unfortunately, we’re often too dispassionate about it. We tend to think of it in unreal terms, as an abstraction. But it involved a real person who underwent an absolutely brutal experience out of love for me.”
Forensic scientists say that the better we know what killed someone, the more likely we are to find out who killed him.
Who killed Jesus? After a decade-and-a-half of study, McKeating doesn’t hesitate to respond.
“I did,” he said. “My sins did.”