Saturday, December 21, 2013

Why I prefer Barbet's hypotheses over Zugibe's: 3) Crucifixion victims died primarily of asphyxiation

This is the final part 3 of my `mini-series' in response to a comment by a Jeffrey Liss under my post, "The Shroud of Turin: 3.6. The man on the Shroud was crucified":

"One question for you, though. I am curious why you prefer Barbet's research to that of Zugibe. My recollection is that they reach different conclusions as to placement of the nails and cause of death."

See part 1, "The nail wound in the hand" and part 2, "The thumbs are not visible because of damage to the hand's median nerve."

[Above: The Villandre Crucifix:

"Of this crucifix Dr. Barbet writes:-`As Charles Villandre was a past-master in sculpture as well as in surgery, I asked him to make a crucifix, according to the precise information I had given him; this is the crucifix which appears in the photograph.'" (Barbet, P., 1953, "A Doctor at Calvary," p.104L]
Included in that "precise information" which Barbet gave Villandre was the following marks of death by asphyxia which Barbet noted on the image on the Shroud:
"Let us say at once, so as not to confuse this study with that of the wounds, that this asphyxia is specially borne out by the marks which it has left on the shroud. We might even say that tetany and asphyxia, of which for a doctor there can be no doubt, prove that the imprints on the shroud conform with reality; this body died the death of a crucified body. We can indeed see that the great pectoral muscles, which are the most powerful inspiratory muscles, have been forcibly contracted-they are enlarged, and drawn up towards the collar-bone and the arms. The whole thoracic frame is also drawn up, and greatly distended, with a `maximum' inspiration. The epigastric hollow (the pit of the stomach) is sunk and pressed inwards, through this elevation and this forward and outward distension of the thorax; not through the contraction of the diaphragm, as Hynek writes. The diaphragm, which is a great inspiratory muscle, would also tend to raise the epigastrium in a normal abdominal respiration. With this distension and this forced elevation of the sides, it can only move back towards the abdominal mass; and that is why, above the crossed hands, the hypogastrium, the lower abdomen, can be seen protruding. (Barbet, 1953, pp.85-86. Emphasis original).

Crucifixion victims died primarily of asphyxiation (Barbet) The late Dr Pierre Barbet (1884–1961), who was Chief Surgeon at Saint Joseph's Hospital in Paris, adopted the hypothesis of his predecessor, Dr Le Bec, that the primary cause of death of crucifixion victims was asphyxia, a condition of severely deficient supply of oxygen to the body that arises from abnormal breathing:

"All that we have so far examined constitutes the causes of weakness and pain, which would have only been able to accelerate the agony. We still lack the determining cause of death; that which certainly, and independently of previous circumstances, always ended by killing the crucified. This cause, may I say at once, was asphyxia. All the crucified died asphyxiated. The work of Dr. Le Bec, my predecessor at the Hopital Saint-Joseph (Le Supplice de la Croix, April, 1925, loc. cit.), contains some precise, exact and complete ideas on this subject.." (Barbet, 1953, p.80).

Barbet agreed with Le Bec that the prolonged raised position of the arms of a crucifixion victim would hinder him breathing out, which would cause a progressive suffocation with a build-up of carbonic acid (carbon dioxide in water) which in turn would cause a "tetanic (sustained muscular contractions) condition of the whole body":

"For him, the raised position of the arms, which were thus in the position for inspiration, would entail a relative immobility of the sides, and would thus greatly hinder breathing out; the crucified would have the sensation of progressive suffocation. Anybody will be able to verify that such a prolonged position, even with no dragging on the hands, already entails an extremely disagreeable dyspnoea (difficulty in breathing). The heart has to work harder; its beats grow faster and weaker. There then follows a kind of stagnation in all the vessels of the body. And `as oxygenation is not properly produced in lungs which are not working sufficiently, the additional burden of carbonic acid provokes an excitation of the muscular fibres and, in consequence, a kind of tetanic condition of the whole body.' All this is perfectly accurate, physiologically correct, and logically deduced. Le Bec in 1925 had the immense merit of conceiving this theory, which is in strict agreement with reality." (Barbet, 1953, p.80. Emphasis original).

Independent confirmation of Le Bec's thesis was provided by the Czechoslavikan physician, Dr. Rudolph W. Hynek, who during World War I witnessed an Austro-German Army torture of hanging prisoners by their hands tied to a pole with their feet not touching the ground:

"It is indeed to Dr. Hynek of Prague that we owe the sad confirmation of Le Bec's thesis and this is the personal and important contribution to the study of the Passion which this author has made, for he saw with his own eyes that which Le Bec conceived with such fine intuition. (Dr. Hynek: ...The True Likeness, ..., 1951. ...) ... a torture ... which he had seen inflicted in the Austro-German army; as a Czech, he was called up in the 1914-18 war. This punishment ... consists of hanging the condemned man by his two hands from a post. The tips of his two feet can scarcely touch the ground. The whole weight of his body, and this is the important thing, drags on his two hands which are fixed above him." (Barbet, 1953, pp.80-81).

Within ten minutes (see below) the victim's muscles would begin to violently contract, starting in the arms and spreading to the chest, resulting in him being unable to exhale fully, leading to a progressive asphyxiation, "as thoroughly as if he was being strangled":

"After a certain time violent contractions of all the muscles are seen to appear, which end in a permanent state of contraction, of rigidity in the contraction of the muscles. This is what is usually called cramps. Everyone knows how painful cramps can be, and how they can only be stopped by pulling the afflicted limb in the opposite direction to the contracted muscles. These cramps begin in the forearm, then in the arm, and spread to the lower limbs and to the trunk. The great muscles which produce inspiration, the great pectorals and the sternocleidomastoids and the diaphragm are invaded. The result is that the lungs are filled with air, but are unable to expel it. The expiratory muscles, which are also contracted, are weaker than the inspiratory (under normal conditions, expiration is done almost automatically and without muscular effort, owing to the elasticity of the lungs and of the thoracic framework). The lungs being thus caught in a state of forced inspiration and unable to empty themselves, the normal oxygenation of the circulating blood is unable to take place and asphyxiation begins in the victim, as thoroughly as if he was being strangled. He is in the state of an emphysematous in a bad attack of asthma. This is also the condition produced by a microbial disease, tetanus, through the intoxication of the nerve centres. And that is why this combination of symptoms of general contraction, whatever may be its determining cause, and there are others, is called `tetany.' We must also note that this lack of oxygenation of the pulmonary blood causes a local asphyxia in the muscles, where it continues to circulate, an accumulation of carbonic acid in these muscles (Le Bec was right about this), which, in a sort of vicious circle, progressively increases the tetanisation of the same muscles." (Barbet, 1953, pp.81-82).

The victim's chest would be distended, a symptom of asphyxia, and if he was not cut down after about ten minute, he would die, as happened in Hitler's concentration camps:

"The victim, with his chest distended, is then seen to show all the symptoms of asphyxia. His face reddens, and then goes a violet colour; a profuse sweat flows from his face and from the whole surface of the body. If one does not wish to kill the unfortunate man, he must then be cut down. This common punishment, says Hynek, might not last more than ten minutes. In Hitler's deportation camps it was extended to the point of murder. Two former prisoners of Dachau have borne witness to this; they saw this torture inflicted on several occasions, and preserved a terrifying memory of it. Their testimony was taken down by Antoine Legrand ... It would seem, from what these witnesses have described, as also from what was seen by Hynek but ... was less prolonged, that suspension by the hands brings on asphyxia, with generalised contractions, as Le Bec has foreseen." (Barbet, 1953, pp.81-82).

From this, Barbet concludes that "the crucified" including Jesus "all died of asphyxia":

"... the crucified all died of asphyxia, after a long period of struggle. How then could they escape for the moment from these cramps and this asphyxia, so that they survived for several hours, even for two or three days? This could only be done by relieving the dragging on the hands, which seems to be the initial and determining cause of the whole phenomenon. After crucifixion, as we have seen, the body sagged, and dropped to a considerable extent, while at the same time the knees became more bent. The victim could then use his two feet, which were fixed to the stipes, as a fulcrum, so as to lift his body and bring his arms, which in the general sagging would have dropped by an angle of about 65°, back to the horizontal. The dragging on the hands would then be greatly reduced; the cramps would be lessened and the asphyxia would disappear for the moment, through the renewal of the respiratory movements ... Then, the fatigue of the lower limbs would supervene, which would force the crucified to drop again, and bring on a fresh attack of asphyxia. The whole agony was thus spent in an alternation of sagging and then of straightening the body, of asphyxia and of respiration. We shall see how this has become materialised on the shroud, in the double flow of blood issuing from the wound in the hand, where there is an angular gap of several degrees between the two flows. The one corresponds to the sagging, the other to the straightening position. One can see that an exhausted victim, such as Jesus was, would not be able to prolong this struggle for long." (Barbet, 1953, p.82).

Crucifixion victims died primarily of traumatic (injury) and hypovolemic (low blood volume) shock (Zugibe) Zugibe maintains that crucifixion victims, including Jesus, died primarily not of asphyxiation but of traumatic (injury) and hypovolemic (low blood volume) shock:

"During suspension on the cross, Jesus would have experienced a progressive loss of plasma to the pleural spaces (spaces around the lungs) and to the tissue spaces such as the ankles; pooling of blood to the lower parts of the body; and continued sweating caused by the direct rays of the hot midday sun, the heat produced by the increased muscular activity, and the hypotensive (low blood pressure) responses of the body to pain and hypovolemia (low fluid volume). Because there was no attempt to replace the lost fluids or to stop the pain, the compensatory mechanisms would have reached their saturation point. ... If I were to certify the cause of Jesus' death in my official capacity as Medical Examiner, the death certificate would read as follows:
Cause of Death: Cardiac and respiratory arrest, due to hypovolemic and traumatic shock, due to crucifixion."
(Zugibe, F.T., "The Crucifixion of Jesus: A Forensic Inquiry,"2005, pp.134-135. My emphasis).

But as can be seen above, even on Dr. Zugibe's own "death certificate" the actual (or what Barbet called the "determining" cause of Christ's death was "Cardiac and respiratory arrest"! So Zugibe seems to be just splitting hairs.

Zugibe claimed to have employed "the scientific method" in experimentally testing Barbet's asphyxiation hypothesis by suspending live volunteers from a wooden cross.

[Right: Dr Zugibe monitoring the heartbeat of one of his `crucifixion victims': Zugibe, F.T., 1995, "Pierre Barbet Revisited," Sindon N. S., Quad. No. 8, December.]

But Zugibe's own description of what happened during this experiment reveals that it was not an adequate test (to put it mildly!) of real Roman crucifixion, as suffered by the man on the Shroud/Jesus, as the following table shows (page numbers are to Zugibe, 2005):

Zugibe's experimentMan on the Shroud/Jesus' crucifixion
`Victims' volunteers (p.107).Victim a condemned prisoner.
Were healthy young men (p.107).Had been scourged with over a 100 lashes of a metal-tipped whip which caused internal bleeding and fluid build-up in and around lungs.
Environment was an airconditioned room at a constant 70ºF = 21ºC (p.111).Environment was open air, naked, under hot sun.
Hands and feet were attached painlessly to cross by straps (p.98).Hands and feet were nailed to cross, causing constant extreme agony.
Knew that they were not going die: heartbeat, blood pressure, breathing, etc., constantly monitored by machines manned by Zugibe and assistant (pp.106-107).Knew they were going to die after extreme pain and suffering.
Psychological stress minimised: when panic attacks occurred, Zugibe assured them they would be taken down immediately if they requested (p.112).Psychological stress maximised: by public humiliation, mocking and knowledge they were not going to be taken down alive.
Evidence of breathing difficulties and increased CO2 levels were explained away by Zugibe (pp.110-113).Zugibe admitted that real crucifixion victims would suffer extreme breathing difficulties, up to and including being a cause of their death (pp.21-22, 24).
Maximum time on the cross was 45 minutes (p.99). Zugibe dismissed Modder's crucifixion experiment as invalid because, "Jesus was suspended for several hours, not a few minutes" (p.104)!Time on the cross alive was about 6 hours.
Were taken down from the cross when their breathing difficulties and/or discomfort became too great (p.112).Not taken down until dead.

Zugibe claimed (boasted?) that he (alone among Shroud scholars?), followed "the scientific method":

"It was then that I realized that Barbet had not applied the principles of the scientific method to his various hypotheses-sine qua non in scientific research-yet his hypotheses were published in myriad journals, books, magazines, documentaries, and movies, and quoted ad infinitum. Subsequently, after extensive experimentation, I was able to demonstrate that his other hypotheses were also untenable ... Much to my dismay, my research revealed that the literature related to the medical aspects of the crucifixion and Shroud was inundated with a farrago of articles by unqualified individuals ... whose conclusions were based on anecdotal, a priori speculations rather than the results of scientific experimentation, a sine qua non required by the tenets of the scientific method. " (Zugibe, 2005, pp.2-3).

But Zugibe carried out his experiment with no other scientists present, apparently from his photographs in his own home. So Zugibe apparently was the sole judge and jury of his own experiment, unlike Barbet who submitted his experiments for review by his colleagues of the Societe de Saint-Luc (a society of Catholic doctors-Col 4:14):

"After I had submitted my researches for the approval of my colleagues of the Societe de Saint-Luc, I was delighted to hear of their unanimous agreement in support of my conclusions." (Barbet, 1953, p.176).
Zugibe's writings reveal that he is highly prejudiced against Barbet, even to the point of dishonestly misstating Barbet's position at several key points (see part 2), so there is reason to doubt his claims that his experiment disconfirmed Barbet's asphyxiation hypothesis. And even if they did, as the above table shows, Zugibe's experiment was not an adequate test of real crucifixion, as no legal experiment could be:
"Realistic experiments to explain the Shroud image are impossible. We cannot crucify someone to experiment on the corpse. Therefore, all explanations of the Shroud image will remain, in one respect or another, hypothetical." (Bulst, W., "Some considerations on the genesis of the body image on the Turin Shroud," Shroud Spectrum International, No. 19, June 1986, p.9).

Space does not permit a full refutation of Zugibe's critique of Barbet, so I will end with this quote from a review of Zugibe (and of a Dr Wijffels) by the then British Society for the Turin Shroud's Editor, himself a physician, Dr Michael Clift:

"It is healthy for the Shroud and Shroudies that controversy continues ... The medical articles in the last two Newsletters provide a prime example for which I have been invited to act as referee. In the red corner we have a ten page article by Dr Frans Wijffels, a Dutch Physician ... In the blue corner we have an eight page dissertation by Dr Fred Zugibe, an American Forensic Specialist, who seems to be claiming a refutation of Barbet's asphyxiation hypothesis ... Both of these doctors are at variance but have enough common ground to make the operation of sorting them out something like the separation of conjoined twins. Both of them leave much to be desired. ... When we turn to Dr Zugibe other problems beset us. .. he tells us that Modder's conclusions are `invalid' and uses the results of his own contrived experiments to show that the crucified victim could not have pushed himself up to gain extra air but that this didn't matter since the crucified did not die of asphyxia. Again none of this explains the Shroud image - and his studies of the various possible causes of death are really no advance on Barbet. I found some extraordinary lapses and inaccuracies in both writers. For example it is untrue that breaking a long bone causes haemorrhage and consequent surgical shock; it causes psychic shock which is a different matter. ... Both doctors seem to be muddled as to what acidosis means. ... Our Lord probably had respiratory acidosis from enforced shallow breathing causing retention of carbon dioxide. ... it seems clear that both sternomastoid muscles were in spasm allowing Our Lord's head to drop only in the forward position at the moment of death. There is confirmation of this in Saint John's Gospel Chapter 19 Verse 30 `...and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost'. ... Dr Zugibe seems not to have noticed one strong piece of evidence of rigor [mortis] on the Shroud. Seen from the back image it is obvious that one leg is bent, as it would have to be in using one nail for the two feet. It would be difficult to maintain this slight bend in life so we conclude it is a post mortem sign. ... Dr Zugibe tells us that the normal respiratory rate is 12 to 16 per minute ... The correct figure is 18. But then in the same paragraph he seems to think the change of position to get extra air would take place with every breath. It is surely much more likely that one position would endure for several breaths, so his estimate of over 4000 changes must be wildly wrong, and is therefore no evidence at all for or against the asphyxia hypothesis. It is wise and kind of any reviewer to find good things amongst those he criticises, but I cannot do so here. Firstly it is not at all clear what point each of the Doctors is making, and this is not helped by the use of turbid and turgid prose, unexplained medical terms, and unexplained reasoning - for example: if breaking the legs did not induce asphyxia why was it done? If the V-shaped blood flow is not owing to change of position what is it owing to?" (Clift, M., Dr., 2001, "Doctors at Calvary: Some reflections on the recent articles by Drs. Fred Zugibe and Frans Wijffels," BSTS Newsletter, No. 54, November, pp.63-65. My emphasis).

Dr Zugibe later replied to Dr Clift's criticisms in, "Dr Fred Zugibe - A Reply to Dr Michael Clift’s Comments," so I have omitted those points validly made by Zugibe. However, there were some points disputed by Zugibe that I did leave in my quote above because: 1) Zugibe's reply did not fully answer Clift's criticism; and 2) although Zugibe may not have included some points in his 2001 article, they are in his 1988 book (and in his 2005 book) which is probably why Dr Clift mentioned them, so again Zugibe was not being completely honest but was hiding behind a technicality.


Jeffrey Liss said...

Well, it would be no exaggeration to say that I am in awe of your response. I've followed along, and of course I read this post immediately when it popped up in my RSS feed. I'd like to believe I could form an opinion -- either in agreement or opposition -- but I am still digesting it all.

There is so much here -- obviously. One of the things that should give pause to anyone skeptical of the Shroud is how much research there is, and how stubbornly it refuses to yield to their expectations. It's not that there isn't a simple answer; it's that they reject a priori the only conclusion supported by the evidence.

But I digress. As with all your work, this is amazing and very helpful as I try to develop a presentation explaining the Shroud to others. Thanks very much.

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Well, it would be no exaggeration to say that I am in awe of your response.

Slightly over the top, wasn't it! :-)

>I've followed along, and of course I read this post immediately when it popped up in my RSS feed. I'd like to believe I could form an opinion -- either in agreement or opposition -- but I am still digesting it all.


There is so much here -- obviously. One of the things that should give pause to anyone skeptical of the Shroud is how much research there is, and how stubbornly it refuses to yield to their expectations.

Few, if any Shroud sceptics are aware of much Shroud research there has been. Most simply dismiss the Shroud's authenticity out of hand (as I did prior to 2005).

>It's not that there isn't a simple answer; it's that they reject a priori the only conclusion supported by the evidence.

Agreed. The evidence is OVERWHELMING that the Shroud of Turin is the burial sheet of Jesus. A non-Christian could still accept that and remain a non-Christian, as art historian Thomas de Wesselow does and is, but that is `too close to the fire' of Christianity being true for most non-Christians.

>But I digress. As with all your work, this is amazing and very helpful as I try to develop a presentation explaining the Shroud to others. Thanks very much.

Thanks again for your encouraging feedback.

I model my posts in this series on the researched and referenced assignments that I used to enjoy doing for my Bachelor of Science degree (2000-2004). Maybe someone will award me a Bachelor of Sindonology degree when I have completed the series? :-)

Stephen E. Jones
Reader, if you like this my The Shroud of Turin blog, and you have a website, could you please consider adding a hyperlink to my blog on it? This would help increase its Google PageRank number and so enable those who are Google searching on "the Shroud of Turin" to more readily discover my blog. Thanks.