Philip Koutsaftis describes step by step the impact of the Passion (with six interrogations and four tortures) and explains how the death of Christ came about on the Cross.
By Demetri Rizoulis
Philip Koutsaftis is head of Forensic Medical Services in Athens and perhaps the most famous coroner in decades.
He has been asked to consider and comment on the greatest of modern crimes and his reports offered valuable information to authorities. But this time he was asked to do a different "autopsy" and "report" on the suffering and death of Jesus.
Mr. Koutsaftis has made a deep study (systematically for some time) on this issue, considering all sources and analyzing the Passion and Death of Jesus in a scientific way. Today he discusses with Sunday Democracy the causes of the death of Jesus, the impact of each torture, and the mental and physical condition of Christ. Finally, he refutes and answers all theories that deny Jesus died on the Cross, the final aim of which is to question the Resurrection.
Mr. Koutsaftis, from the data available to us from the Scriptures, Church tradition, and historical sources, do they give us a full picture of the sufferings of Christ?
Most certainly. We know too many details and you would think that we could draw a conclusion. I hope this venture does not sound disrespectful to some, because it is daring. It should be understood that the Divine Passion was voluntary. The Lord by His own will accepted everything, so that even when the nail shredded into His flesh and pierced His bones He prayed for those who crucified Him, which is an unprecedented thing.
So what are the implications of the Passion?
What everyone should know is that the Passion was psychosomatic. Christ, when He departed from the Mystical Supper and went to pray, leaving three of His disciples at a distance (Peter, James and John), displayed according to the Scriptures something ecstatic as if He was waiting for something to happen. In the end (while His disciples could not grasp what was happening) Jesus prays for the third time and blood with sweat runs from His forehead. This point in the narrative about "bloody sweat" has been strongly challenged for centuries. But the Evangelist writes something that was unthinkable and unprecedented, without the care of it being challenged or accused of writing fantastic things. Indeed, the Gospel is vindicated after two thousand years, as Medicine has recently concluded that there is a rare symptom of the body with these characteristics when someone is in great psychosomatic tension. We know now from modern science that the sweat glands are scattered in the body, but are more numerous in the palms, soles, neck, cheeks and forehead. When a person is in great tension, it is possible to break a large number of capillaries of the sweat glands. The blood released mixes with the sweat, stains it red, and the result is the mixture spouting onto the skin. In other words, Luke the Evangelist wrote the truth. Can anyone understand, however, how much tension Jesus had before His arrest? The next day He knew He would bear human sin as a replacement for fallen man. He did not want to be forsaken by His Father. His anguish was not for the scourging nor for the nails.
What were the tortures before the Crucifixion and what impact did they have?
Following the arrest Jesus went through six grueling interrogations with questionings. From Annas, Caiaphas, the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod and again Pilate. In between He endured four long brutal tortures. With the interrogations and the tortures He was chained and dragged six times. The distance He traveled in chains was about six kilometers. And He did this hungry, thirsty and without sleep.
What role did stress play?
They brought intense psychosomatic violence, stripped Him three times, dressed Him the same amount, He was whipped, they placed a crown of thorns on Him, and they loaded Him with a heavy Cross. When He was questioned they punched Him, spit on Him, and humiliated Him. They wanted to try to make Him bend.
Among other things, was He scourged?
Yes. The scourging was done with a flagellum, which had straps with beads on the edges and bones at the end. Every time one of these straps hit His body, one of these objects entered His flesh and when pulled by the torturer it shredded His skin. The wounds this caused in the rear surface and the lateral and ventral thorax region were tremendous and He must have been full of blood. Christ must have lost a lot of blood just from that.
And the Cross that He carried?
When the Lord was loaded with the Cross He had to carry a piece of timber that was planed (as we see in iconography). These two timbers were placed on his hardened skin of calluses, so you understand what happened when they threw them horizontally on His back. His back was already full of blood from the scourging. Carrying this heavy timber on His wounds while walking must have been unbearably painful. Jesus was literally dragging His footsteps and suffering. He no longer could breath and didn't have enough oxygen. As His blood was diminishing He bent His knees because it was impossible to proceed.
You describe a situation which is almost too much for human measure.
Yes. I believe that if the replacement was not there He would have died. Normally, based on logic, there (on the path towards Golgotha) He should have died.
However, Christ finally arrives at the site of the Crucifixion. What exactly happens there?
There the crucifiers lay Jesus on the Cross and nail in His hands and feet. There are two versions for the exact point of the nailing: the inside of the palm appears in many icons, or the inner surface of the wrist. The first version is for me the most plausible. The palm has a small thickness with a large surface, and because the tendons and fascia do not tear the skin. There are also metacarpal bones which can hold the weight.
If, however, the nail went between the two bones, the radius and ulna, there would be tragic pain in the median nerve. Think of the intense pain we feel when we hit the little nerve of the elbow. Imagine putting a nail through that nerve.
As for the nailing of the legs, the two versions are that either the legs were crossed and a nail went from one foot into another or that they were both nailed parallel to each other. Findings in East Jerusalem in 1968 reveal that there were others who were crucified in the first way mentioned.
How did death ultimately occur? Do we know?
We can say that it was a slow death and very torturous. With the lifting of the Cross Christ faced a number of adverse factors:
- Compulsory standing, which creates orthostatic hypotension.
- Mandatory immobility, which does not allow the venous blood to return to the heart.
- The position of the chest, with the weight of the body to be permanently expanded made it terribly difficult to breath. He could not exhale but only inhale. This shortened the death.
Moreover he was facing wound complications, bleeding, dehydration, hunger, thirst and exhaustion.
The final "outcome"?
It was a multifactorial death. Many things acted towards the ending, with final cause being asphyxiation with circulatory failure. An important detail is the invasion of carnivorous insects. The blood brings from far away insects that cut pieces from the wounds of a stationary human! The most terrible moment for the Lord was after the nailing to the Cross.
How do you explain the strength He showed?
Christ did not die before the crucifixion because there was a reason. It exceeded human measures and for me the fact that He stood and climbed the Cross is another example of His divinity.
Can you describe what Jesus felt wearing the crown of thorns?
First of all, I will tell you that it is an unprecedented response. Never before had something like this been done and never again repeated. It was horror! It was constructed from a jujube, a flexible plant that thrives in the region, with very large and hard spikes. Until then crowns were hard iron and adjusted based on the diameter of the skull. This was torture. The scalp has arteries. It has a very good blood supply and many nerves. So the bleeding was great and it was unbearable pain from the thorns on the nerves.
Occasionally there are heard theories that Jesus did not die on the Cross, in order to justify (logically) there was no Resurrection. In your opinion, can this stand up?
Do you think the puncture on the side was random? It was not accidental at all. This fact is the certificate of death. The spear pierced the side and out came "blood and water". From whichever side came the puncture, with this heavy weapon of two meters, there is no way anybody could stay alive. No way!
So it refutes everything?
Of course. The naysayers certainly say what they want, but I do not understand why they deal with Christ if they say He doesn't exist.
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos
* The photo above is a random experiment that was not part of this specific study.