“What Christ Suffered” is some serious Lenten reading.
There was so much I learned and appreciated from this book. Dr. Thomas W. McGovern used to travel the country giving lectures based on the well-known “A Doctor of Calvary” by Pierre Barbet M.D.
Several things brought him to reconsider what he learned in that book, and he stopped giving these lectures while reassessing this.
He did considerable research to take knowledge from other experts regarding the history of crucifixion, archeological studies involving this, graffiti, other depictions of the crucifixion, and literary references to this practice. He masterfully takes all this information and takes us on a journey regarding what we know, what we don’t know, and what we can postulate. He also weaves all this information interspersed with selections and his thoughts on Saint John Paul II’s “Salvifici Doloris.” As far as possible, he has taken his lead from original sources. Throughout the book, there are also comparisons regarding how these observations line up with the Shroud of Turin. While Dr. McGovern considers the shroud authentic, he does not present it as primary evidence or proof.
The main narrative is an exploration of what Christ suffered medically, along with theological reflections on this. His reassessment of the data convinced him that most of what we had learned about crucifixion and how the death occurred is mistaken. Prominently, asphyxiation was not the cause of Christ’s death in particular but also not the cause of death for those crucified. There were also discussions regarding how breaking the legs of those crucified would hasten death.
What I appreciated most about this book is how he presented the information and his conclusions. He charitably considered contrary conclusions and did not present his findings as to be the only possible answer.
It is rather remarkable how little we know about the crucifixion and how little actual data has been handed down to us in history. We have no manuals on how the Romans did this, and it likely varied by location. Also, that what little we generally know about this is mistaken.
I learned so much I can never look at Jesus on the cross the same way again, knowing more of the details. Yes, it is annoying to know that every image of this is wrong in some aspect, as presented in pictures, statues, and movies.
I said, this is some serious Lenten reading, and I am thrilled to have read it. I would not suggest this book to everyone. If you want to learn more about how Jesus died and don’t shy away from some gruesome details, then yes, it is highly recommended.