He will not allow me to catch my breath, but fills me with bitterness.

~ Job 9:18, NKJV

Photo by Clayton Hansen, courtesy of iStockphoto


Since Constantine abolished crucifixion in the fourth century, modern scientists could only speculate on what occurred to those crucified. While most didn’t want to ponder such anguish, some medical investigators did.

  • Dr. Le Bec’s theories

In the 1920s, Dr. Le Bec focused on the effects of impaling a human body. He theorized the raised positions of the arms at crucifixion immobilized the respiratory muscles – rendering expiration more difficult.

Thus, Le Bec proposed the crucified suffered progressive suffocation. He suggested that this deoxygenated state initiated even more extreme muscle cramping, resulting in a condition known as tetany.[1] [2] (Tetany is the malady where multiple muscle systems in the body contract simultaneously.)

Over the next few decades, others expounded on Le Bec’s theories.

  • Dr. Hynek’s observations

Doctor Hynek witnessed a related form of torture (aufbinden) while he was in the German army in World War I. During this military castigation, the officer hung the soldier by two hands from a post so that his toes barely touched the ground. His suspended hands supported the whole weight of his body.

After a period of time in aufbinden, the muscles of the arms and hands began to twinge. These tremors gave way to violent spasms – spreading even to other muscles in the body. Eventually, these convulsions involved muscle groups over the entire body as tetany set in.[3]

  • Dr. Barbet’s studies

Doctor Pierre Barbet wrote more extensively about this condition in relation to crucifixion. He felt that the impaled persons suffered from tetany when they were crucified.[4]

Tetany generated a constant, unbearable agony because the violent cramping persisted in sustained contractions over the entire body. At its worst, the muscles remained rigid until death.

Crucifixion’s anguish was excruciating in every way. As the cramps moved to involve the muscles of respiration, the progressive suffocation set in.

The end result of tetany is asphyxiation.

Thus, the crucified struggled to breathe until they finally succumbed to an agonizing death. They could inhale, but they couldn’t exhale. The deoxygenation of the blood caused the muscles to cramp even more severely.

What resulted was a vicious, futile cycle culminating in a torturous death. No one hung still while being crucified, until death alleviated the excruciating agony. That’s what Jesus suffered on His cross.

Just like Jonah experienced, the Savior fulfilled this sign of Jonah.[5] [6]

[1] A. Le Bec, “Le Supplice de la Croix,” L’Evangile dans la vie (April 1925): 12 -18, referenced in Pierre Barbet, A Doctor at Calvary: the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ as Described by a Surgeon, translated by The Earl of Wicklow (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Image Books, 1953), 80-81.

[2] A. Le Bec, “The Death of the Cross, a Physiological Study of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ,  (October 1925): 126-132, referenced in Frederick T. Zugibe, The Crucifixion of Jesus: a Forensic Inquiry (New York: M. Evans and Company, Inc., 2005), 9, 102, 103, 131.

[3] R. W. Hynek, The True Likeness, 2nd Edition (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1951), referenced in Barbet, 81-82.

[4] Barbet, 54, 80-82, 208.