SPARTANBURG — Coroner Rusty Clevenger spoke in a professional tone, but people in the crowd looked shocked.
The Spartanburg county coroner was talking about “The Forensics of Christ’s Crucifixion,” an event sponsored by St. Paul the Apostle Church Women’s Club on March 12 in the parish hall.
It was a mixture of Scripture and science by a man who has investigated more than 200 deaths in a 23-year career as a law enforcement officer. Clevenger said he was moved two years ago to conduct a full investigation into Christ’s death.
His witness struck home.
“I know I get too emotional, but it was powerful. You can’t imagine yourself in (Christ’s) place,” said Myra Turner, a parishioner.
No one could imagine the intensity of the pain attendant to having stout spikes as long as five inches driven through the hands, Clevenger said. Even though Jesus had been whipped almost to the point of death before he was crucified on Golgotha, Roman executioners still had to lay across his chest and legs to prevent him from bucking in agony so they could fasten him to the wood.
“He should have gone into shock at that time. He was weaker than others who were executed that way and he died quicker. Still, Jesus hung for six hours before he gave up his spirit,” the coroner said.
In addition to the pain of the scourging was the crowning with thorns. A cap of more than 100 long thorns was placed on Jesus’ head and driven deep into the cranial nerves. The Son of God also suffered the anguish of anticipating his own death, plus sleep deprivation, extreme thirst and humiliation.
“Jesus was stripped naked, folks,” Clevenger said. “He is usually depicted on the cross wearing a loin cloth, but he was in fact naked and hung near a busy road, on a hill, where he was clearly visible. Being scourged was like being slugged in the back by a baseball bat. He had deep tissue bruising and his flesh was stripped from his back. Fluid began to fill his lungs; he was weak, dehydrated. The weather was hot and dry.”
Jesus Christ was not granted a fast death, the coroner said.
Clevenger cited the work of Fredrick T. Zugibe, M.D., a New York forensic pathologist with a master’s in anatomy and histochemistry, who is an authority on crucifixion and the Shroud of Turin.
Zugibe’s innovative experiments using volunteers and cadavers proved that Jesus was probably nailed through the upper palms, not the wrists as is popularly assumed, and that he died from hypovolemic and traumatic shock, not from asphyxiation.
“They speared him through the fifth intercostal muscle to prove that he was dead,” Clevenger said. “If Jesus had still been alive and breathing, they would have noticed a sucking chest wound. The Bible’s ‘blood and water’ meant that his chest cavity was filled with fluid.”
MaryAnn Riley, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Church, said the timing of Clevenger’s presentation just before Easter was perfect, and that is exactly how the women’s club arranged it.
“We planned it for this time of Lent, so that we could compare the sacrifices we make to the one Jesus made for us,” said Angela Waldrop, vice-president of the guild.
Jack Klein, also a member of St. Paul, was impressed.
“He obviously has a lot of knowledge and lives his faith,” Klein said. “It’s nice to see that in a public official.”