The Devil is in the Details
Reader Larry Prososki objects to my remark, in yesterday's review of The Passion of the Christ, that the movie got the mechanics of the crucifixion wrong. Since I actually know nothing about how to crucify people and was relying on an expert's comments as filtered through another reporter—such is the stuff of which modern journalism is made—I have no choice but to blink and concede that Prososki might be right. I post his comments here, so that any execution buffs in Reason's readership can let us know whose account is more plausible:
Although I enjoyed your column about Mel Gibson's 'Passion' movie, I thought it should be pointed out that stating "anthropologist Joe Zias told Reuters, 'You cannot crucify a person through the hands because there is nothing there but skin and muscle. It will tear'" is wrong. I understand you were incorrectly informed and reporting what you were told, but I would like the opportunity to correct it.
As I understand it, when the feet are supported during crucifixion, the weight load is sufficiently reduced as to not tear the hands. Most accounts have Christ's feet supported by a wooden block and nailed into the cross.
Only if the film do not show this aspect, would it then be wrong.
In doing some research on this topic some time ago, I found that Romans used both methods (wrists and hands). There is supposed proof of others being crucified through the hands. Some historians indicate that the hands method was saved for especially wicked men. It was actually more cruel because it delayed the death and thus prolonged the agony.
The wooden block was indeed there in the movie.
I should add that Reuters raised some other objections to Gibson's portrait, notably that "Jesus would not have carried the entire cross to the crucifixion as vertical beams were kept permanently in place by the ever efficient Romans. 'Nobody was physically able to carry the thing (the entire cross). It weighed about 350 pounds,' Zias said. 'He (Jesus) carried the cross-beam, maximum.'" Of course, that could have simply been another miracle.