Crucifixion and median neuropathy

Authors


Correspondence

Jacqueline M. Regan, Department of Neurosciences, Inova Fairfax Hospital, 3300 Gallows Road, Falls Church, VA, 22042. Tel: (703) 927-0187; Fax: (703) 776-4018; E-mail: jackre@umich.edu

Abstract

Crucifixion as a means of torture and execution was first developed in the 6th century B.C. and remained popular for over 1000 years. Details of the practice, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, have intrigued scholars as historical records and archaeological findings from the era are limited. As a result, various aspects of crucifixion, including the type of crosses used, methods of securing victims to crosses, the length of time victims survived on the cross, and the exact mechanisms of death, remain topics of debate. One aspect of crucifixion not previously explored in detail is the characteristic hand posture often depicted in artistic renditions of crucifixion. In this posture, the hand is clenched in a peculiar and characteristic fashion: there is complete failure of flexion of the thumb and index finger with partial failure of flexion of the middle finger. Such a “crucified clench” is depicted across different cultures and from different eras. A review of crucifixion history and techniques, median nerve anatomy and function, and the historical artistic depiction of crucifixion was performed to support the hypothesis that the “crucified clench” results from proximal median neuropathy due to positioning on the cross, rather than from direct trauma of impalement of the hand or wrist.

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