4

Do we know which side of Christ was pierced by the Roman soldier during His Passion?

Have any serious studies been done to determine which side of Christ was pierced by a lance during the Crucifixion of Jesus, immediately after He died on the Cross?

2
  • 2
    From the symptoms (water expulsion as well as blood) is it not the correct diagnosis that the pericardium had been punctured, which is on the left side ? Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Apr 11, 2023 at 13:34
  • Also since the motive of the piercing was to assure death the Roman Soldiers would have known where the heart is and that would have been where the spear was thrust .
    – Kris
    Apr 11, 2023 at 14:48

4 Answers 4

6

The historical record does not provide a definitive answer to this question, but there is reasonable evidence suggesting it was His left side:

  1. The outflow of blood & water in John 19:34 effectively describes the effect of puncturing the pericardium (further medical discussion here).

  2. The purpose of the soldier was to ensure He was dead (a Roman soldier could be punished for botching an execution and allowing a convicted person to escape alive). Piercing the heart would ensure immediate death if the individual was not already dead; piercing the right side would not result in immediate death.

  3. The soldier almost certainly wielded the spear with his right hand (even left-handed soldiers were made to fight right-handed so that soldiers in a line did not strike each other (source on tactics; source on practical implications of those tactics)). Since people were crucified facing forward, a soldier facing Jesus and wielding a spear with his right hand would naturally strike on the left.

5
  • 2
    Do you have a source for saying that "even left-handed soldiers were made to fight right."
    – Ken Graham
    Apr 12, 2023 at 13:24
  • Even if they weren't, there's only about a 10% chance any randomly-selected person is left handed. It happens, but its not the way to bet.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 12, 2023 at 14:13
  • 2
    Ken, yes, that is not in question. The phalanx, testudo, maniple were all made up of men fighting right handed, period. The spearman in question may have been left handed, but he most assuredly was taught to use the spear right-handed.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 12, 2023 at 16:27
  • 1
    @KenGraham sure thing, citations added, including a link to a practical discussion of Roman infantry tactics, and why it was necessary for all soldiers to hold their shield in their left hand, and their attacking weapon in their right hand. Apr 12, 2023 at 21:32
  • HTTR, does it really matter whether the soldier was holding the spear in his right hand or left ?What if he was horse-mounted and was at a higher level vis-a--vis the chest of Jesus ? Please see my answer . Apr 14, 2023 at 2:03
2

We have the Evangelist testifying:

These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” (Jn 19: 36)

The Creator has given us the rib-cage, a bony structure to protect to heart and lungs. In case the spear of the soldier (whom traditions name Longinus) pierced Jesus’ heart from Level Zero , it would have broken a rib or two. But it didn't . And in case the spear entered from below the rib-cage, it would have taken the intestine out with its tip. John does not record it either. Now, the Romans like any other people knew that the heart is positioned with bias to the left side of the body. Longinus’ duty was to pierce the heart of Jesus in order to make sure that he was actually dead. It is quite immaterial whether Longinus was adept with his right hand or left. We are made to believe that he was standing on his feet. What if he was mounted on a horse ? In that case, the reach of his spear towards Jesus’ heart would be 360 degree. And here he was not confronting an enemy, but looking at a dead man ! Naturally, with a surgical precision , he would have inserted the tip of the spear right on the center of Jesus’ chest , turning the tip towards the left where the heart could be found . There we have the traditional paintings of the Sacred Heart with the wound towards the right-side bottom ! The answer therefore , is : the spear of the soldier struck the middle of Jesus’ chest where the rib-cage is divided.

4
  • Isn't the breastbone there, in the middle? Apr 12, 2023 at 21:58
  • 1
    Of course, there is. But, with the peculiar shape of the rib- cage, there is enough bone- less space left between the lower end of breastbone and the naval, to let the tip of a spear go in. Apr 13, 2023 at 0:52
  • 1
    John says the soldier pierced Jesus' side. This word appears 4 times in John and once in Acts and I've not found it translated as anything other than side. Apr 13, 2023 at 13:01
  • 1
    Thanks, Mile Borden for pointing out. Two Indian languages ( Hindi and Malayalam)use the word meaning ribcage or chest area. First prints of Malayalam were direct translation from Syriac. Apr 14, 2023 at 3:24
2

The actual answer here is that this information isn't related in any of the Gospels. People can make educated guesses (as HTTR's answer does a great job of. Upvoted.), but it isn't related in the Bible.

The underlying answer is that it isn't important information.

The point of this bit of the Gospels, consistent through all 4 of them, is to draw parallels to Psalms 22:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
...
7 All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
...
15 my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
...
18 they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.

These parallels are all found in Mark 15: verses 34, 17-20 & 29-32, 36, 27, and 34 respectively. The other two synoptics mostly stuck to the same story (although there are some interesting differences). However John, which scholars think may have been the last Gospel written, added some things.

This is where your story about the soldier comes in. It only exists in John. That of course doesn't mean it didn't happen, but it does mean either those earlier Gospel writers didn't know about it, or for some reason they didn't think it was important.

In any event when John wrote his passion story, he added a couple of more parallels. One from verse 14 of the same Psalm:

I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint ...

and another from Psalms 34:20:

He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

In case you might miss these parallels, the new stuff in John 19 immediately points you at them.

33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35 (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36 These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, "None of his bones shall be broken". 37 And again another passage of scripture says, "They will look on the one whom they have pierced."

For good measure, that John 37 points out that his new stabbing/water incident does double duty with Zackariah 12, which verse 37 above (mostly) directly quotes.

The upshot here is that the authors of the passion story were taking great pains to establish the crucifixion story as fulfilling the scriptures. In particular, John, who alone related this story about the stabbing, flat out tells you that it "occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled." That's what you're supposed to take out of it. Other details about that event that don't mate it to the Psalms or Zackariah simply aren't relevant.

1

Do we know which side of Christ was pierced by the Roman soldier during His Passion?

Although Scriptural evidence is lacking as to what side the Roman soldier stabbed Jesus with his lance, tradition and art favour the right side, as well as some modern studies as well.

Although the side of the wound was not designated by John, it traditionally has been depicted on the right side. (4) Supporting this traditions is the fact that a large flow of blood would be more likely with a perforation of the distended and thin-walled right atrium or ventricle than the thick-walled and contracted left ventricle. Although the side of the wound may never be established with certainty, the right seems more probable than the left. - The Physical Death of Jesus Christ

For nearly 1700 years there has been very little archaeological evidence of this cruel and savage execution because of the fact that a crucified body was left to decay and rot on a cross.

Sometimes the body was allowed to be handed over to the family, but not before the ”coup de grace” was administered to the Crucified victim: the blow with the lance! We see that the death blow was administered to Jesus in lieu of the crucifragium or the breaking the the legs as St. John points out.

Under Constantine in 315, or, at latest, 330 A.D., death by crucifixion was abolished in throughout the Roman Empire.

Burial and the lack of burial - The usual course was for corpses to remain on the cross and to be devoured by birds of prey and by wild beasts. Horace replies to an innocent slave: “Non pasces in cruce corvos - you will not feed the crows on the cross” (Ep. I:16). And in Epode V he writes: “Post insepulta membra different lupi et Aexquilini alites— And then your unburied members will be dispersed by the wolves and birds of the Esquiline.” And other texts take up the same theme (Petronius, Seneca, Artemidorus).

However, the bodies could be asked for by families who wished to ensure for them a decent burial; it seems that the law authorized this final grace without hindrance or demand for payment. Even the ashes of those condemned to the stake were returned to their relations (Pandectes). That such clemency was the rule is proved by the fact that the cases when free authorization was refused are pointed out as exceptions. Cicero, in the De Suppliciis, bitterly reproaches Verres that he extorted a heavy payment for giving up the bodies of those who had been executed to families who did not wish to see them become the prey of wild animals. Such a financial extortion, says the orator, is against the law.

The blow with the lance — Later, we find the same provisions in the Digest: "The bodies of those condemned to death shall not be refused to their relations. . .. The bodies of those who have been executed are not buried, except when permission has been asked and been granted, and sometimes it is refused, especially in regard to the bodies of those who have been condemned for the crime of high treason" (Ulpian). The Digest belongs to the 6th century, but it is a compilation of all the ancient laws, which, when one takes into account the traditionalist spirit of Roman jurists, certainly gives a true picture of the customs and legislation of the period in which we are interested.

Elsewhere Quintilian, who belongs to the 1st century, writes: “Percussos sepeliri carnifex non vetat—the executioner does not forbid the burial of those who have been pierced." This word “percussos” unless I am mistaken, introduces a new idea which has a special bearing on our subject. What exactly does “percussos” mean? It does not refer to the execution itself, nor to the scourging; as however it refers to those who have been condemned to death, we know quite well that they have been scourged and crucified. It refers then to a special blow, given after the execution and which reminds us irresistibly of what is known as the “coup de grace”; it seems to be similar to the revolver shot which is fired into the ear of a man who has been shot, even when he is clearly dead. One could then interpret Quintilian’s phrase as meaning the executioner allows those who have been executed to be buried, after they have received the coup de grace. - The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

During Jesus’ Passion the soldiers were quite sure that Jesus was truly dead, for they had spared Him the crucifragium, which was to bring the lives of the thieves to a rapid end by bringing on tetany and asphyxia, as we shall see. So it was the heart of Jesus which one of these soldiers struck with a lance!

Jesus was probably stabbed by a Roman spear on the right side.

The Wound in the Heart

I say "wound in the heart” and not wound in the side, because this is attested by tradition, and it has been confirmed for me by experiment. The blow of the lance which was given to the right side reached the right auricle of the heart, perforating the pericardium.

"Ad Jesum autem cum venissent (milites), ut viderunt eum jam mortuum, non fregerunt ejus crura, sed unus militum lancea latus ejus aperuit, et continuo exivit sanguis et aqua” (Jn 19: 33, 34). “But after they (the soldiers) were come to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear opened His side, and immediately there came out blood and water.”

In Chapter II we found the reason for this blow with the lance, in such strange fashion given to a corpse. The body of one who had been executed was legally delivered to the family, once this had been authorized by the judge. But the executioner could not do so till he had made sure it was dead (and if need be, have caused the death, which was not necessary in the present case), by a blow which would open the heart. This action which seems so strange was merely the carrying out of a legal regulation.

This flow of blood and water from the dead body has always deeply moved exegetists and theologians. We find Origen already replying to the idiotic sarcasms of Celsius [sic] (contra Celsum, II, 36): “I know well that neither blood nor water flows from a corpse; but in the case of Jesus it was miraculous.”

Father Lagrange, the eminent exegetist, to whom I owe the quotation from Origen, writes in his commentary on St. John the following remarks about this issue of blood and water: — “John also knew this (that it was miraculous) and that is why he insisted so strongly that it had been seen by an eyewitness. - The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Clearly, the weight of historical and medical evidence indicates that Jesus was dead before the wound to his side was inflicted and supports the traditional view that the spear, thrust between his right ribs, probably perforated not only the right lung but also the pericardium and heart and thereby ensuring his death.

0

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .