Joseph of Arimathea was a wealthy man who had a new tomb carved into a stone hillside. This was not a pauper’s grave. Only the rich and powerful could afford such a tomb. But the first man to use it was not a wealthy man. He grew up as the son of a carpenter. He had no home to call his own. He had a small group of friends who deserted him at the last minute. He had thousands of admirers who quickly sought to get rid of him when he didn’t overthrow the Romans as they expected.
The ancient Assyrian army would drive a stake into the chest of their enemies impaling them. Then they would plant that stake in the ground to display their victim. They did this both to frighten and to intimidate those who would oppose them.
The ancient Romans further refined this gruesome tactic. Instead of impaling their victims on a stake, they nailed them to the stake. Impaling resulted in quick death, but crucifixion extended the horror. Crucifixion was slow and agonizing torture that sometimes lasted more than a day. It’s from this execution method that we get our word “excruciating”–which literally means “from the cross.” Crucifixions took place in public where people could see the victim and become terrified to go against the Roman government. This torture was used for the worst of criminals.