Friday, March 21, 2008

Violent death

The accompanying document has recently come to light among the scrolls and papyri found near the Wadi Qumran. Unlike the majority of these documents, it was written in Latin and it may therefore be an attempt by local Bedouin to cash in on these discoveries. The Bedouin tribe of Ta’ammireh is well known for its cunning and sharp business practices, so it may well be a forgery. I have made a rough translation which I present for your judgement.

Report of post-mortem examination of prisoner MCMLXVII known as Yeshua Ben-Adam.

Hail Tiberius Caesar!

The body is that of a male Sephardic Jew aged between XXX and XL years, of average build and swarthy complexion. The hair is long and plaited and the beard unkempt. There are numerous facial injuries as detailed below.
(i) swelling over both eyebrows.
(ii) torn right eyelid.
(iii) large swelling and discoloration below right eye.
(iv) swollen nose, the nostrils filled with old blood clot.
(v) triangular shaped wound on right cheek with apex pointing towards nose (this appears to have arisen from an attempt to pluck out the prisoner’s beard)
(vi) swelling of left cheek.
(vii) swelling and contusion of left side of jaw.
(viii) IX separate puncture wounds in the scalp arranged in a ring around the crown of the head. The longest of these admits a probe the distance of the terminal bone of a man’s thumb.

On the dorsal surface of the body there are numerous wounds extending from the shoulders, across the back and buttocks down to the backs of the thighs. Each wound is slightly longer than the terminal bone in a man’s thumb and dumbbell shaped. They are arranged in groups of III and extend diagonally across the back in both directions. I counted CXVII separate wounds. These wounds are consistent with a scourging with a flagra properly administered.


There is an area the size of a man’s hand over the right shoulder which shows blistering and abrasions. Over one part of the knees are numerous excoriations.

There are puncture wounds in both wrists consistent with a large nail having been hammered through the skin crease between hand and wrist. In both cases the wound has passed between the small bones of the wrist without damaging them, but in both cases it has transected the median nerve. There is an exit wound on the back of the wrist.. There are similar wounds in each foot. In this case the wound passes between the proximal ends of the second and third metatarsals.

There is one further would. There is an elliptical slit the length of a man’s thumb between the ribs V and VI on the right hand side of the front of the chest. It is clear that blood has flowed from this. Unusually for those executed by crucifixion in the province of Judea no bones are fractured.

Internal examination was most interesting for the findings in the thorax. The left pleural cavity was filled with a straw colored fluid with some blood streaks. There was enough of this fluid to half fill a centurion’s helmet which I was leant for the purpose. The left lung showed contusions on the surface and was collapsed. The cut surface was frothy. I have seen such fluid before in prisoners who have died following a flogging.

The left pleural cavity contained very little fluid. Presumable it had drained through the wound in the anterior chest wall. I examined the track of this wound, the depth of which was about the breadth of a man’s hand. The wound passed through the pleural cavity, through the collapsed lung and into the right atrium of the heart which was empty of blood. The wound could have been made by a Roman soldier’s short lance.

The other organs of the body showed no gross abnormalities apart from the fact that all were covered with small petechiae and there was a good deal of unaltered blood in the bowel. A curious finding was the complete absence of clotted blood. Indeed blood flowed freely from the vessels when cut. I collected a sample of blood in an earthenware jar and although I stored it for several hours the blood would not coagulate. I have noticed this finding before in prisoners who have met a violent death. I would like to propose that such blood be collected and instilled into those who, because of a deficiency of blood, are weak and cowardly.

I find the cause of death to be suffocation caused by accumulation of fluid in the thorax during judicial crucifixion. Owing to the inability of the blood to coagulate it is possible that the lance wound occurred post-mortem and thus was both blood and pleural fluid lost from the body.

I would finally like to protest at the treatment of this prisoner. Although the wounds to the back and limbs are consistent with scourging and crucifixion properly and legally carried out, the wounds to the head are a different matter. There is no doubt in my mind that this prisoner was illegally beaten while in custody. Eye witness testimony suggests that this took place not only in the custody of the Roman Procurator, but also in that of the Tetrarch Herod Antipas and indeed in the custody of the Jews themselves.

This, Sir, is not what Roman justice is about. I should further like to protest that I was prevented from continuing my examination of the body by its disappearance. I have no doubt that this was ‘engineered’ by someone in authority to cover up evidence of penal atrocities. Despite extensive enquires I have been unable to find any trace of the corpse.

Signed Lucas Mortico, state pathologist.

The document has an addition in a different hand:
File. No further action. Not to be referred to higher authority. Lucas Mortico to be posted to Britannia or somewhere equally cold and unpleasant.

Signed: Pilatus, Procurator of Judea.


I think that this document is highly unlikely to be genuine, but it is interesting to note that the Soviets also observed the inability of blood to clot in those meeting a violent end. Apparently something triggers the fibrinolytic enzymes. They are on record as using cadaver blood donations to bolster their transfusion service in the time of Joseph Stalin.

5 comments:

Vance Esler said...

Sounds fake to me. For example, I don't think anyone of that time would have made the distinction of a Sephardic Jew -- which would have been someone from Spain.

The name Yeshua Ben-Adam is clearly a bad translation for Son of Man, the name Jesus like to use for himself. However, in Aramaic it is Bar Enash, not Ben-Adam.

I also doubt that autopsies were carried out on crucified individuals, especially Jews.

And do you think they would have known about the median nerve by that name?

Terry Hamblin said...

Of course, I faked it myself with enough clues to expose it readily, but the idea is to provide an explanation for the blood and water.

Anonymous said...

The fakery was obvious given the name and the use of the term sephardic jews...at the time in question, all jews were basically "jews" as the european diaspora had not seriously begun (though there were jews in Rome, France and other areas of Europe and likely Asia at that time.

Postmortem examinations were done during the Roman era (one was done on Julius Caesar), but they were exceedingly rare, and almost certainly wouldn't have been done in Jerusalem after Jesus' death as it would serve no useful political purpose for either the Romans or the Sanhedrin.

lastly, such an examination would make the Gospels less compelling (I think...being Jewish I'm not sure of this last point).

Vance Esler said...

Ha! Well, people have faked archaeological finds before, so it seemed reasonable that someone might try to pass off some document like this. The funny -- or is it sad -- thing is that a lot of people would probably believe it.

As a physician, what is your thinking about the blood and water? Do you think it was pericardial fluid, or pleural? Was this heart failure due to the crucifixion itself, or was the fluid simply the result of the beatings?

Terry Hamblin said...

I think it was a result of the beatings and therefore pleural fluid. I also think that the beatings induced defibrination which is why the blood did not clot.