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Introduction

Crucifixion probably started first with the Persians (what is modern day Iran). Initially, the victim was suspended to keep his feet from touching the ground. The Phoenicians, traders to many lands, seem to have also acquired the practice and probably spread it to other cultures, including the Greeks. Alexander the Great (a Greek) introduced the practice to Carthage, where it was picked up by the Romans. The Romans started using it around the time Jesus was born.

The Romans perfected crucifixion as a punishment designed to maximize pain and suffering. It wasn’t simply about killing somebody; it was about killing somebody in a way that induced the maximum amount of pain. The suffering in this form of execution is still reflected in the English word ‘excruciating.’ Crucifixion was also the most disgraceful form of execution. It was usually reserved for slaves, foreigners, revolutionaries, and vile criminals. The only time a Roman citizen was ever crucified was for desertion from the army.

The condemned man would then be nailed to the cross bar. The nails would be driven through the wrists. The cross bar would be raised and placed on the upright post, where the victim’s heels would be nailed to the post. This would allow him to breath by pushing up on the nail. An ankle with the nail still in place, from a crucified man, has been found and is shown.

Commentators state that the Romans wanted to inflict the maximum amount of humiliation onto the condemned man and as such, he was crucified completely naked. In fact, the Encyclopaedia Britannica states that all victims were crucified totally naked, but they offer not supporting information.[1]

Was the Lord Jesus crucified naked?

First, how is the naked human body viewed in the Bible?

Adam and Eve were created naked and they did not take any notice of it until they ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Once they were able to discern good from evil, they tried to cover their bodies. God stepped in and covered them with the skins of animals. Of course, He had to kill animals to do so. So, Adam and Eve thought it to be sinful to be naked and even to look at a naked body. God showed that this was His attitude as well.[2]

After the Flood, Noah grew grapes, made wine, drank, became drunk and laid down in his tent without any clothes on. Ham, Noah’s youngest son, saw his nakedness and laughingly told his two brothers, who covered their father by walking backwards with a garment between them and covered him in such a way as to not see his nakedness. Noah praised Shem and Japheth and cursed Ham’s descendant Canaan for what Ham had done.[3]

As well, Exodus 28:42 refers to the priests serving in the temple; You shall make for them linen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs;

Many other verses can be quoted, but it is clear that nakedness and looking at a naked person, outside of marriage is sinful, with the exception of parents with small children and obviously carers of the aged.

How did the Jews treat nakedness?

The Jewish principle of “tzniut” rejects all nudity, not only in public, but also before family members at home. The rejection of nudity recalls Adam and Eve who, after committing the first sin, realized they were naked and instinctively felt ashamed and hid (Genesis 2:25). The same attitude reappears when Noah curses Ham, who saw his father exposed (Genesis 9:21-27).

Jewish laws stipulated that if a man was stoned to death he must be allowed to wear a loincloth.[4]

It is unlikely that the Jews would have requested to Pilate that Jesus be crucified with a covering, a loincloth. However, it is more likely that the Romans knew from previous experience, that there would be trouble if this was not done and it could have become a practise to cover a Jewish man before crucifixion. It was in Pilate’s interest to keep the peace because this was a major parameter in how he was judged by Caesar.

Other considerations

Jesus paid the penalty for the sins of the world and He paid it completely. So why would He have not been humiliated by being crucified naked? The answer would be that if that was the case, those close to Him, His mother and friends would have been punished as well by being forced to look at a naked man, which is against God’s moral law.

Those present at the crucifixion were Jesus’ mother Mary, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.[5] Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Joses) and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.[6] Five women are mentioned and quite possibly there would have been more.

Conclusion

It is clear that both the Bible and Jewish law prohibits anybody from looking at a naked body. With at least five women around Him and close enough to hear Him speak, it is difficult to believe that Jesus was totally naked, because if He was those women would not have been present.

Post Script

Most artists show the crucified Jesus as being a long haired man with a straight “Nordic” nose, strong jaw line, maybe a slightly injured face and wearing a loincloth. Perhaps Him wearing a loincloth is the only depiction which was correct. The Bible gives two descriptions of Jesus’ physical appearance, both prophetic.

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.[7]

Jesus was not a handsome man; nothing in his appearance that we should desire. From this scripture, Jesus may have been quite plain.

See my servant will act wisely, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his formed marred beyond that of any man.[8]

Note the description of Jesus on the cross: his appearance was disfigured beyond that of any man. After the many beatings He endured, his eyes would have been swollen and closed to probably slits. His nose would have been bloodied, lips cut and swollen, cheeks swollen and bruised. Streaks of blood, now dried, from the thorns pressed into His head would be evident. Quite possibly most of His beard would have been pulled out.

Finally, first century Jewish men thought it was effeminate to have long hair.[9]
[1] Encyclopaedia Britannia, 1962, volume 6 page 753.

[2] Genesis chapter 3.

[3] Genesis 9:20-29.

[4] http://www.jesus-story.net/crucifixion.htm.

[5] John 19:25.

[6] Matthew 27:56.

[7] Isaiah 53:2.

[8] Isaiah 52:13-14.

[9] 1 Corinthians 11:14-15.

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13 Comments. Leave new

  • Thanks for the article Gary about Jesus on the cross. Can you tell me where to find historical evidence that Jesus was crucified on a cross not on a stake. The Jehovahs Witnesses believe that Jesus was nailed to a vertical stake with no horizontal beam. The Greek word can refer to a cross or a stake . I would love to show them the historical facts. Thanks.
    Keith.

    Reply
  • Of course Jesus was crucified fully naked before a cheering mob. To suggest otherwise is blasphemy. As a devout believer, I do not understand why some believers find it necessary to contrive a way in which Jesus would have been allowed some kind of creepy sumo wrap (or diaper) to cover his genitalia. What else did the Roman’s do? Ask Jesus, ‘Savior, may we get you some coffee? a cold beverage perhaps?’ while they were torturing him to death? Really? And if anyone truly believes that the Romans and the Jews had some sort of back-alley deal worked out so that an exception to being nailed naked to the cross was made in Jesus case, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. Please don’t try to cheapen His death and sacrifice by making ridiculous conjectures about how he didn’t really suffer the full torture and humiliation of crucifixion. He did! And God help you if you won’t accept it!

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment Brent. I appreciate and love your passion for our Saviour.
      I do make clear in my article; “It is clear that both the Bible and Jewish law prohibits anybody from looking at a naked body. With at least five women around Him and close enough to hear Him speak, it is difficult to believe that Jesus was totally naked, because if He was, those women would not have been present.”
      It is possible that the Romans made an exception for the crucifixion of Jews because the last thing they wanted was social unrest leading to riots. The governors were judged by Rome on how successful they were at controlling the people. In fact, Pilate did all he could to have Jesus released because he knew him to be innocent. Matthew 27:24: When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility.” Pilate would rather have an innocent man crucified that to have a riot on his hands.
      For Jesus to die for the sins of the world, He lived a sinless life. If being crucified completely naked was sinful, then He would not allow such a thing to happen.
      Ultimately, we don’t really know.

      Reply
  • Wasn’t Jesus brought up to be a Nazarene? A tradition that holds that you abstain from alcohol and the cutting of your hair? Samson was one as well, wasn’t he? So effeminate or not, I believe Jesus had long hair. Whether or not he was crucified naked is just a curiosity to me. It doesn’t really matter. All that does matter is that he DID die for MY sins.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your comment. Jesus was a Nazarene because He came from Nazareth. However, He was not a Nazarite who was a person bound by a vow of consecration to God’s service for a defined period of time.

      Reply
  • I’m referring to your reply to Brents comment here: I think I have to agree with Brent. Firstly, while it is be considered a sin to look at a naked body, the situation here is very different from the situation you mentioned with Noah. The women here had the choice between either staying home and letting Jesus suffer and die all alone in the worst hours of his life to add to his pain, or come and support him in his suffering and death, even though this meant they wouldn’t get around seeing him naked. In Noah’s case there was nothing that justified his son looking at his naked body, it was simply disrespectful and done with no consideration towards his father whatsoever. In Jesus’ case there was something that could justify looking at him naked: It wasn’t done out of disrespect for him, or intentionally, but it was inevitable if you wanted to be there and support him, and in the end, I think simply leaving Jesus behind to die an excruciating death alone as soon as he was stripped of his clothes, wouldn’t have been more sinful than staying for his sake (even if it meant seeing him naked, inevitably, and they still could have averted their eyes as much as possible).
    I also don’t think the Roman’s would feel the need to cover him to avoid a riot. As you already said: Pilate and the Romans had witnessed without a shadow of a doubt the enimosity and hate the jews had for Jesus, it was more than obvious to them that, in the eyes of the jews, there was no suffering too great to inflict on him. There was nothing that they would deem unthinkable when it came to Jesus, no torture and humiliation too great. That he in fact feared a riot if he would NOT crucify him. That being given, I think this made it clear enough for the Romans that they would suffer no real backlash if they also deprived Jesus of this favor regarding his modesty. As you already mentioned yourself; you too don’t believe the jews did stand up for this right of Jesus, and Pilate knew and saw for himself that they didn’t care: That he would in fact probably make himself even more popular with the jews if he denied Jesus this. If the jews wanted him to be tortured and crucified so much that he feared a riot if he wouldn’t give in to their demands, he also most likely wouldn’t have worried about a riot if he deprived Jesus of a loincloth during his death. If the jews demanded his death and torture, they surely also wouldn’t care if he died naked. Especially since they saw Jesus as a blasphemer and it would certainly please them quite well to see this ”blasphemer” who ”claimed” to be God humiliated to such a degree. After all, if Jesus died publicly naked, in their eyes, this would hurt his claim even more than if he died with even a shred of dignity left.
    I also don’t think it was sinful for Jesus to be crucified naked (if that’s what you mean by what you said at the end). After all, if I understand you correctly, this blames him for being stripped naked against his will, even though he was a victim.

    The last thing is not about the reply but the article itself, where, if I remember correctly, you mention at some point how God too sees nakedness as sinful, proved by the fact that he later clothed Adam and Eve. But he clothed them for their sake, after it became necessary when they fell into sin, not because their nakedness was sinful to his eyes, after all, up to this point God walked with them in the garden while they were naked, in close companionship, which wouldn’t have been possible if God had considered nakedness a sin even before him.

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Stephen E. Seale
      June 25, 2021 1:53 am

      Quite true. It was not nakedness in and of itself that was sinful, though there was a condemnation against taking people’s clothing as surety for a debt. The fact that the Prophet Isaiah was instructed by God to strip himself naked and travel around for three years preaching in that state is a clear indication that the state of nakedness is not evil in and of itself, since God would not have instructed Isaiah to commit an evil act. Lest someone come back and say that Isaiah wasn’t really naked, or was wearing a loincloth the passage itself is clear that he was not clothed. “And the Lord said, Like as my servant Isaiah hath walked naked and barefoot three years for a sign and wonder upon Egypt and upon Ethiopia; So shall the king of Assyria lead away the Egyptians prisoners, and the Ethiopians captives, young and old, naked and barefoot, even with their buttocks uncovered, to the shame of Egypt.”

      Some responders may say, “Oh, but it was shameful for the people to be naked.” Well, yes, it was, but the shame didn’t come from the simple state of nakedness. It was shameful because it was being forced on them. The Egyptians and Ethiopians were going to be defeated in battle and taken as slaves, with their clothing, which was a mark of status in the ancient world, taken from them. Those who had their clothing taken away had no status, but were slaves. This was the source of shame, not the simple uncovering of the body.

      Reply
  • Avatar
    bill strickland
    March 6, 2021 4:37 am

    this is the first time ive heard of naked prisoners,,,,,,,,,was it common in the old world to keep prisoners or those to be crucified, naked?? How do we know either way?

    Reply
    • Avatar
      Gary Baxter
      March 6, 2021 7:46 am

      Thank you for your comment Bill. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary page 265, states that before crucifixion, the victim was stiped of his clothes first. I make the case that this may have been different for the crucifixion of Jews.

      Reply
  • Heb 12:2  Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.

    The very first thing that Adam and Eve “knew” was that they were naked. In genesis two says they were naked and they were not ashamed. So clearly they were ashamed once they knew they were naked. So it seems there might be something there. Lamentations 1:8  says Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward. So now she was “despised” because they saw her nakedness. And yet it is interesting that they would want to cover someone’s nakedness so they wouldn’t have to look on it. They may have despised Jesus because of his nakedness, if he was naked on the cross, but he despised the shame (nakedness) for the joy that was set before him.

    It could be that the last Adam, Jesus, went back to that first shame, nakedness.

    Reply
  • One more thought. Consider these verses:
    Zec 12:10  And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn.
    Joh 19:37  And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

    I happened across this verse in John the other day and wondered what it meant, that they shall look on him whom they pierced. If the scripture is merely speaking of looking at him, it doesn’t seem to be worth mentioning. I don’t think it is simply saying that they saw him, especially in light of the verse in zechariah. It makes me wonder if “looking on him” had to do with the nakedness, because looking on someone’s nakedness was a sin for the beholder.

    I’m not catholic but i came across this article and he gives good argument. https://www.catholicconvert.com/blog/2017/04/12/was-jesus-naked-when-crucified/

    Reply
  • “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
    ‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭5:21‬ ‭ESV‬‬
    https://www.bible.com/59/2co.5.21.esv

    No, Jesus did not sin but He did take on the sin of the world in Himself. In fact, He became sin for us. He was utterly sinful on the cross. All the wrath of God was poured out on Him. I have no doubt that He was hung naked and humiliated. All who knew Him were humiliated as well and most refused to be identified with Him. You make a poor argument for your case and miss the point of scripture that makes clear the depth of our sin and what it cost Jesus. In Jesus the world saw not only what true righteousness is but also the true ugliness of sin and what it does.

    Reply

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